Issues In Drama Teaching.
I hope that this page can act as a forum to share ideas and concerns over some of the issues that face us as Drama teachers. If you have any responses to the comments contained herein or would like to raise an issue of your own then please E-mail me.
As drama teachers we are often very isolated and usually the only specialist in our school. Drama tends to be either thriving or non -existant and if you are in the latter position, it can be hard work setting things up and developing long term growth. Perhaps it would be useful to set up some kind of national notice board where staff can request to make contact with other drama teachers in their area without worrying about the pressures of exam moderation ,which is usually the only other time that we meet. A few years ago in East Sussex, the authority appointed someone to foster links between drama teachers. The local studio in town was hired for the day,towards the end of the exam preparation period in April, and the local schools brought a couple of their groups to perform their piece and discuss work in progress. This was invaluable as it gave students a wider experience of form and style and it allowed teachers to share in each others approach to structuring work.
An issue I feel particularly strongly about concerns the way in which theatres and publishers are profitting from our attempts to foster an interest in drama and theatre amongst our students. It seems ludicrous that when students can hire a video for a couple of pounds, which is no great loss if it turns out to be rubbish, it costs well over £6 even for poor seats at most theatres and it's acutely embarrasing if the performance is bad. I would like to think I am prepared to take risks, to support innovative work or unknown companies but the problem is cost. Students have to review theatre productions as part of their examination course and the cost of going to see a performance at a large theatre can disadvantage many. Yes I know there is some excellent work going on in small studios and Higher Ed. venues but that's not the point, this is about encouraging students to go to a wide range of theatre on spec. It would make sense for local authorities to liase with drama teachers in schools in order to issue registration cards that would allow students to buy tickets for decent seats for any show for £2 shortly before curtain up. This is their future theatre audience here and a little foresight would go a long way. In this case, when a bad show appears, we can shrug our shoulders and say never mind the next one will be better. The issue of students paying for performances that they are supposed to review for examination is a thorny one. If the visit is an essential part of the syllabus, we are not allowed to charge for it and students are entitled to go at no cost to themselves. The only way round this is to say that students are able to review school productions that they can see for free and that other visits are optional. Then we need to consider who pays for the member of staff. It's not right to factor the cost of staff tickets into the student price and yet very few theatres offer free staff tickets with small group bookings. What other subjects require staff to pay for supervising the students! The second aspect is the money made from schools by publishers. A few years ago I produced "Oh What A Lovely War", an excellent musical but one that smashed my budget completely. Samuel French insist we pay ridiculously high fees for the privilege of performing the play over three nights. To hire the full score bumped the cost up even more and then, to cap it all off, it cost £75 to hire the slides that are an essential part of the play. Even before we had started to buy material for costumes or paint for the set, we had spent over £250! and, as we all know, it is illegal to buy just one copy of the play and photocopy the required lines for your huge cast. It took a budget of £1000 to stage a school performance. Now if we were a highly successful company who made a fortune out of our shows, secretly packing them in to maximise profits and enjoy a hefty bonus at the end of the academic year, then I could understand the scale of fees that publishers operate but come on! We are almost exclusively playing to the parents of those in the play and it is sheer greed that accounts for the amount we have to pay in order to enable students to enjoy theatre. Schools should be exempt from paying licence fees. It would then be reasonable to expect them to buy a full cast set of scripts. This accounts for the popularity of Shakespeare and teachers who write their own shows. Again, a little foresight will go a long way. If you would like to consider some of the shows I've written, then please look at Resources. You'll be pleased to note that the package includes a reasonable fee and permission to photocopy the scripts as many times as you like! Order these from Sales.
Third and finally for now, althogh hopefully this page will become a hotbed of dramatic debate, we consider how to encourage more boys to become involved in Drama. If you work in a boy's school then you can forget this and go and buy some resources, but the rest of us suffer from "laddishness". Every break and lunchtime, the boys are on the playground kicking a football about or bouncing a basketball round each other. Now I am not anti -sport, but for most of these lads it is cool to hang out like this and the peer pressure is terrifying. They prevent lads who would be great on stage from getting involved because it threatens their own status and faces them up to the fact that what they are doing is a waste of time. At a normal audition, the ratio of boys to girls is about ten to one and that is for a straight play, let's not even start with musicals. The sad reality is that if you're a girl ,then you have to win your way through at least five or six talented others in order to get a small part in the chorus. If you are a lad and you turn up, then you're in! The only way I can see past this one is to approach lads quietly on a one to one and gently bend their arms. If you can identify talented lads in normal drama lessons and make a quiet note of them, then when it comes to casting hold a secret audition that their mates won't find out about until too late. It's also worthwhile asking older lads who have come back for more, as they nearly always do because your shows are so great, to speak to the reticent possible stars. If you want to start with a musical and are worried about apathy amongst the boys, then might I suggest you consider, "Little Shop Of Horrors" which should appeal and gives you enough positive feedback to be a bit sneaky next time. If all this seems too much, then you will have to resign yourself to doing endless revivals of "Daisy Pulls It Off!" or "Top Girls".
Things We Know And Love!
Sir, we're doing a drama about drugs/teenage pregnancy/alcohol/serious illness, because we wanted to do something original.
It is a well known fact that a telephone conversation on stage in a student drama must show both people on the phone.
All drama evaluations must end with the lines ," The final performance went well although we forgot a few lines I don't think anyone noticed. I hope we can do better next time."
A level drama students favourite trick is to drop in a reference with no explanation of meaning or demonstration of understanding whatsoever, i.e. " This is very Brechtian. "
At least three members of your cast will receive detentions which mean they cannot attend the dress rehearsal.
At least six girls in your cast will also be in the Orchestra which rehearses at the same time as you do.
There are no good "Christmas Plays" once you've done "Scrooge".
All the male members of staff are dying to do Panto like they used to do years ago and can't understand why you don't want to.
Short plays in school assemblies are always well rehearsed, well written and artfully staged.
The Art department love painting scenery.
Sarah's mum makes all the costumes.
Caretakers are a drama teacher's best friend and work far too hard for far too little reward.
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