Writing about live professional theatre is a common component of both GCSE and A Level Drama, and it has been so for many years. It is worth enough in the mark scheme to make a massive difference to a final grade. However, it can also feel like a bit of an add-on. It can often be relegated into something that has to be squeezed into the curriculum between practical sessions.
There are a lot of problems to overcome with watching live theatre. The availability of live theatre being the most obvious and impactful. For a variety of reasons, it is not always easy to get to the theatre. It can be difficult to find something that your students will enjoy, engage with or find relevant. It can be difficult to know in advance what is available to watch, especially if you have to plan your curriculum well in advance. This is why you need that element of flexibility within the Key Stage 4 / 5 curriculum to be able to drop everything to focus on watching, talking about and writing about live theatre.
What you don’t want to be doing at these moments is also teaching how to write about professional theatre. I think that this needs to be done from as early as possible and something that should definitely be imbedded into Key Stage 3. So here are five ways of helping Key Stage 3 students to write about theatre.
Watch any performance
I don’t think that students at Key Stage 3 have to go to the theatre. It is nice and in a perfect world I would take them as often as possible. But I think for their needs any performance will be good for them to watch. Anything from professional theatre to student work on YouTube or film and television clips. What they need to experience is good performance work that they can engage and connect with. I am perfectly happy at this stage to share clips of actors in films.
Focus on what is good
One of the reasons why it is important to share any performance work with students is to make them aware of what we mean by the question “what is good?”. What we are focusing on is not whether the students liked it or not. But we are focusing on what the actor was trying to communicate to the audience and how well they achieved that. The students need to focus on this key shift in focus from simple phrases of like or dislike to more complex critical perspectives.
Focus on how it makes them feel
A good way of helping students to focus on a more critical response to a performance over a simpler one of like or dislike is to focus on how it made them feel. Ask the students to describe how the actors performance made them feel. Whether it made them feel happy, sad, angry or a range of different emotions. Discuss with the students what emotion they thought actor was trying to make their audience feel. Make a comparison between the two statements. What was the actor trying to do and did you, as the audience, feel that?
Drip feed analysis
Once the students have an idea of what the actor was trying to achieve and an idea of how well they achieved that, it is time to start to drip feed analysis. Analysis is a very important part of the success criteria when writing about live performance. Analysis is about breaking things down to see how it was been created.
Ask the students to identify how the actor has used the key terminology they know to create the performance and communicate to the audience. Steer the students towards the most successful key terminology and to be as specific as possible. I tell my students to work from the top of the head down to the toes, then to the space around the actor and finish with how they talk to other characters.
Talking is as good as writing
I think it is as important that they students discuss and talk about their thoughts as it is to commit them to writing. This is especially the case when students are starting out on this shift from simple responses of like and dislike to more complex critical perspectives of work. Encouraging them to voice their opinions and discuss their reasonings will help them improve their understanding of it.