After the dust has settled on results day, an autumn routine should include a forensic study of the Examiners’ Reports. Even the most successful departments will unearth areas for improvement and refinement. From studying the 2019 AQA A Level Drama and Theatre reports, here are my top five takeaways:
- Avoid the trap of pre-prepared answers
Understandably, teachers have the urge to send students into an examination with a security blanket of set responses. Who among us has never said, ‘No matter what, make sure you include…’? However, ready assembled responses can restrict marks. Students producing long, identical opening paragraphs are disadvantaged since they rarely relate to the question at hand and leave less time to apply the correct focus. Students may also misread or twist the question in order to regurgitate their prepared response. The 7262/W: Drama and Theatre Report emphasises the fact that including information in their answers that isn’t directly relevant to the question has a huge impact students not achieving their potential. This is a strong steer that paragraphs of irrelevant context and plot retellings will not be rewarded. Similarly, ideas can only be credited once, so repetition, particularly found in concluding paragraphs summing up what has already been said, is a waste of time. Prepare your students for the unpredictable, offering sessions on how to read a question and plan a response, but remember that the best teaching allows for individual expression and creativity.
- Get your terminology and facts right
Know your ‘upstage’ from your ‘downstage’, your ‘spotlight’ from your ‘wash’ and that it’s better to write ‘apron’ rather than ‘the bit at the front that sticks out.’ Two performance terms which caused particular difficulty were ‘proxemics’ and ‘gait.’ Students confusingly wrote about ‘closing’ or ‘widening’ or even ‘heightening’ their proxemics rather than simply saying the characters had moved closer or farther apart. Similarly, ‘gait,’ which is a manner of walking, was mistaken for posture or stance, producing unclear answers. Misunderstandings about context cost marks as well and students need to ensure that where they are including contextual information, it is directly relevant to the question and accurate.
- Sketches are your friends
Across the reports, problems with sketches were highlighted. For Section B 7262/W: Drama and Theatre, the report points out that students often didn’t not include a sketch of their setting and that a sketch is really an essential element of any answer to a design question. A sketch is an efficient way of conveying design concepts. It must be large enough to include design details and clear enough that the examiner can interpret it. Some sketches contained few annotations beyond noting colour. For sets, more successful designs included features like scale, materials, furnishings and texture.
4. Nuance is good; generalisation bad
In some responses, there was a lack of subtlety, detail and insight. The genteel poverty of Amanda in The Glass Menagerie would not be shown by having her wear ‘torn old clothes.’. More nuanced responses noted the cut and fit of the period costumes and that, given her financial situation, her clothes might be ‘faded.’ Some students’ costume designs were generic and failed to register the differences in age, class or personalities of the characters. Colour coding was often discussed simplistically. For example, it is unhelpful to assert that white always represents innocence, even when it’s describing ‘a doctor’s coat.’ Answers about performance and design must be rooted in a detailed understanding of the text and context. It is reductive to write Haemon’s ‘loss of patience’ is merely a ‘teenage tantrum’ given his character and situation.
5. Know your practitioners
Holding a placard does not a Brechtian performance make. There is more to Berkoff than wearing white makeup. In ‘Creating Original Drama,’ students sometimes displayed a superficial or incomplete understanding of practitioners. Fluency and ease with their various methods could be improved by specific workshops to deepen students’ work. Practitioners should be chosen because they help to convey the intentions of the piece. ’Cherry-picking’ of one or two aspects of a practitioner’s techniques should be avoided. Elements need to be embedded in the performance, rather than tacked on as an afterthought, such as a last minute ‘chair duet’ to indicate that the piece was influenced by Frantic Assembly. Throughout the reports, there is detailed guidance to assist with common difficulties in all the assessment components and across all set texts. Descriptions of outstanding work, such as answers that displayed inventiveness and energy coupled with precision, or a devised piece based on careful research about ‘The Disappeared’ in Chile, which powerfully used Frantic Assembly techniques, can serve as inspiration as you launch the new academic year.
Structured to allow for co-teachability, it provides set text coverage and support for studying a range of practitioners, advice on assessing theatre visits, and support for creating original drama and the Working Notebook.