What? I didn’t even know that Drama had essays!
HSC Drama is regarded as being a ‘B-Grade’ subject. Most people who consider themselves to be winners or successes of the ‘HSC Game’ will tell you not to do Drama because it scales ‘badly’.
I would, firstly, like to debunk this fallacy. If you get a medium-high Band 6 in Drama, it would be more beneficial to your ATAR than a medium-low Band 5 result in Physics (for e.g.) – a seemingly ‘better’ subject.
Basically, if you are getting high marks in Drama, and love the subject, you should definitely do it! As a bonus, you’ll enjoy the assessment tasks and classwork. The HSC doesn’t have to be a long slog! Pick subjects that you love, and you will succeed.
About the Essay
Drama essays are often overlooked because most kids take Drama to do the practical/acting components. In reality, the theory tasks are the most influential on your final mark. The theory exam is worth 40% of your external mark! Honing your Drama Essay writing skills will take you straight to the top, believe me! Most Drama students forget to study for the written exam until it’s too late. Getting this skill under your belt early will put you well ahead the rest of the pack.
This article is here to help you with any trouble you’ve had with Drama Essays in the past, in 5 simple steps! Let’s Go!
Step 1: Understanding Band 6 and the Rubric
Bands are the system BOSTES uses to grade each of your exams in the HSC. Your results will be placed in a certain Band based on your percentage results. There are six bands, band 6 being the highest and most difficult band to achieve.
It is easy to think of the Bands with reference to their percentages.
- Band 6 – 90-100%
- Band 5 – 80-89%
- Band 4 – 70-79%
- Band 3 – 60-69%
- Band 2 – 50-59%
- Band 1 – 0-49%
The only way you can understand a rubric is if you translate into language that you understand. As an example, I have taken the Australian Drama and Theatre Rubric (the HSC Drama Core Study) and broken it down into simple terms.
Australian Drama and Theatre (Core Study)
This topic explores, theoretically and experientially, the traditional and contemporary practices of Australian drama and theatre and the various ways in which artistic, cultural, social, political and personal issues and concerns are reflected in different contexts. Students investigate how different Australian practitioners use dramatic forms, performance styles, techniques and conventions to convey ideas and influence the ways in which audiences understand and respond to ideas and images presented in the theatre.
You may know them at TEE Tables from previous English essays you have written. However, Drama essays are slightly different. You will be using a TETE table instead for Drama to break down your paragraph into a set of columns to build up an in-depth collection of evidentiary support for your essays.
You will be using a table much like this one. I have filled it out using an example from David Williamson’s The Removalists to show you how it works.
Technique/Element of Drama
|Sexism||Class exercise: Kenny and Fiona in their home. Kenny sits in a reclining chair whilst Fiona tends to their laundry. Simultaneously the dialogue exhibits sexist undertones, overtly sexist language, and indicators of a poorly educated man through grammar, vocabulary, and vernacular.||Levels – Kenny in a relaxed, power position and Fiona adopted a domestic role|
Costume – Kenny dressed in dowdy clothing and Fiona wearing a homely dress
Dialogue – swearing and rude comments from Kenny to Fiona suggest sexism and violence
|The audience empathises with Fiona, concerned for her safety. The audience builds dislike for Kenny and starts to pontificate about what they are doing to make women feel lesser in their lives. This assimilates with the tenets of Boal’s political theatre.|
You should have one of these in every paragraph, giving you 4 for a Drama Extended Response. I know this can be tedious, and no one ever said that writing an essay was a hobby, but if you work hard now, you will reap the rewards later.
Step 4. Answer the Question
Let’s try this one:
Compare how the plays that you have studied use the development of tension to take their audience on a particular journey.
First, we should ask ourselves three mini questions, within the question, to really understand what BOSTES wants us to answer.
- What tensions are in the two plays I have studied?
- How do the playwrights develop these tensions – What dramatic techniques/elements do they use?
- How are these two things different in the two plays?
It is important that you answer these questions in the introduction of your essay, as it will show the marker that you have understood and addressed the question. Be sure to link back to these questions throughout the essay to reinforce your response. The next step is to write paragraphs which more specifically address the question.
Writing the Paragraphs
In each paragraph, you should follow this structure: SCEEL!
- Statement – A topic sentence which refers to the question, the set text and a theme in the text.
- Context – A sentence about the context of the play, which is relevant to the themes you will be discussing in the paragraph.
- Example – Experiential learning. Include an example from the text which supports your argument.
- Explain- Explain the elements of drama included in the example and how they highlight the presence of the theme. Then, discuss the effect on the audience.
- Link – Make a statement which links to the next paragraph, as it will be a comparison/contrast paragraph.
Let’s look at an example SCEEL Paragraph:
[S] David Williamson’s The Removalists makes an overt diatribe of blatant Australian sexism through manipulation of Kenny and Fiona’s relationship to represent a ubiquitous Australian union between men and women. [C] The attempts of the third wave of feminism to make leaps and bounds in Australia during the 1960’s and 70’s in Australia, to little avail, prompted Williamson’s creation of the Kenny-Fiona relationship dynamic in The Removalists. [E] In a class exercise, we directed a section of dialogue between Kenny and Fiona in their home, where Kenny sits comfortable in a reclining chair, whilst Fiona tends to the family laundry. Kenny spoke in a deep, harsh voice, whilst Fiona contrastingly adopted mousey mannerisms and spoke just above a whisper, in terror. We manipulated the dramatic elements of level and sound to portray this inherent Australian tension. [E] The audience consequently was made aware of the power dynamic in the relationship, whereby Kenny was in obvious control, and Fiona was his submissive. [L] Williamson’s criticism of Australian sexism is apparent to the audience and provokes consideration of how they are treating, or supporting the women surrounding them.
As you can see, it is very different to an English paragraph. You do not need to use fancy or superlative language. Just be sure to write clear sentences that do not cloud your thesis.
Step 5: Draft, Rewrite, Polish
The key to a good first draft is by reading over the question, breaking it down, and creating a dot-point plan of what you’d like to say in your response. You should mention themes, the experiential learning you’re planning on using and so on. The essay doesn’t need to be perfect just yet. Just have a crack at writing!
Turn your first draft into full and proper sentences. Be sure to pay attention to spelling, grammar, and sentence structure! If you pay attention to these things in practice essays, you will be ready to go for the real thing. Turn your scaffolded paragraphs into 250-300 word paragraphs, and make sure that the experiential learning reads clearly, as you are often portraying a scene with movement and visuals.
This is the time to pick up on things that you feel need improvement. You want to aim to increase the flow of the essay. Put your laptop into ‘review’ mode so that you can track any changes you make.
There you go!
That’s the most boring part of the course covered and done with a Band 6. Now you can get back to the good stuff… acting!
This is a full-on guide to smashing the Drama Essays, so thank you for sticking with me – you will be better off for it! With these techniques and steps, you have the ingredients to make a wonderful extended response. These tips have been used, approved and endorsed by Band 6 and 99+ATAR Drama students. Get writing!
Lucinda Smith-Stevens graduated from Pymble Ladies’ College in 2016. She is an intern at Art of Smart. She hopes to study a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney in 2017, focusing on Media and Communications subjects. Lucy loves drama and public speaking, having completed a CVCA diploma in Speech and Drama. Lucy is also passionate about helping other students through the HSC in humanities subjects, General Mathematics 2 and essay writing skills.
I have bolded the important terms. Every exam question that you will get, or practice, will be derived from this rubric. It is paramount that you understand this.
In essence, BOSTES is saying that in this unit, you will research and act out your set texts to get a rich and deep understanding of how the playwrights explore contextual Australian issues. These may surface in the form of a reflection, diatribe, subtle comment, or ramification of the artistic, cultural, personal and social imperatives of Australia in the plays’ contexts. Your job, as the student, is to analyse how the playwrights wrote their plays, and what techniques they used (appropriate to the styles of Australian Theatre) and what they wanted the audience to feel/think after watching their play!
Step 2: Understand your Texts
Step 3: Using TETE Tables
1. Read your texts! Know them back to front!
For an example, we will use The Removalists by David Williamson (1971). This play is about two police officers, one a senior officer and the other is the new cop on the block, who helps a young woman and her sister, who is being abused by her husband, to move out of the house and return her to safety.
2.Extrapolate the important themes.
In The Removalists an example of a core theme of the play is sexism. This apparent sexism is a reflection of the blatant sexism in Australia in the 1970s.
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There are two parts to this task.
- Part A – performance essay (20 marks)
- Part B – two extended responses of between 400 and 600 words each (10 marks each)
H1.2 uses performance skills to interpret and perform other scripted material
H2.2 uses dramatic and theatrical elements effectively to engage an audience
H2.3 demonstrates directorial skills for theatre and other media
H2.4 appreciates the dynamics of drama as a performing art
H3.1 critically applies understanding of the cultural, historical and political contexts that have influenced specific drama and theatre practitioners, styles and movements
H3.2 analyses, synthesises and organises knowledge, information and opinion in coherent, informed oral and written responses
H3.3 demonstrates understanding of the actor-audience relationship in various dramatic and theatrical styles and movements.
© Board of Studies, Drama Stage 6 Syllabus, 2009
PART A (20 Marks) – performance essay – in groups of 1–3 present a performance essay for the following question.
How are the elements of drama manipulated to engage the audience in the two plays you have studied?
Each person in the group is to consider one element of drama. Each person’s section of the performance essay must be submitted in writing. Each person has a performance time limit of 3–5 minutes.
PART B (20 Marks) – extended response questions
- To what extent are the plays you have studied a reflection of Australian society? Your answer should consider the views of the playwrights, and the social, historical and cultural references the plays make in regards to Australian society.
- How do the plays you have studied accept or reject the conventions of traditional Australian drama? Your answer should show an appreciation of how the style of realism is manipulated in both plays.
Write 400–600 words for each response.
A performance essay is a moved presentation of the theoretical information inside an essay. It is usually done in documentary style with a narrator moving in, out, and around selected scene extracts – explaining their relevance to the question. The key to a good performance essay is to ensure the information is informative and engaging.
The following example is an extract from a performance essay showing how the dramatic element of tension is manipulated in Act III of the Thornton Wilder play, Our Town. The text is read aloud by a narrator while the extracts from the play are performed by both the narrator and another actor.
Following the funeral of Emily we see an attempt by her to return to the world of the living. This ultimately, unsuccessful attempt, creates tension between the two worlds of ‘life’ and ‘death’.
[The actors playing Emily and Mrs Webb begin to act out the scene. They freeze at the point where Emily tries to tell her mother she is dead.]
You will have noticed the characters seem unwilling to look at each other. By employing this simple technique of movement, in this case no eye contact between the characters, significant tension is created. As an audience we are longing for Emily’s mother to acknowledge her daughter, but we know this cannot happen.
[The actors continue to act out the scene until Emily is 'ready to go back'.]
Emily's final departure presents an unresolved climax. She has died and there is no chance for her to gain closure with what she acknowledges is a lacklustre past. There is also significant dramatic irony within the scene as we, the audience, know that Emily is dead, whereas Mrs Gibbs is unaware of this fact. This creates a sense of dread, in that we know there is much sadness ahead for the family.
Marking guidelines – Part A
These guidelines are used to mark the collaborative task.
Marking guidelines – Part B
Each of the two responses is marked separately.