The Final Countdown 2

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In my last blog post I wrote about six easy ways to break up your revision for history. This time round I’m looking at what’s required for Theatre Studies A level. This can be quite a tricky technical examination and it’s all too easy for students to direct their answers more towards the sort of textual analysis that is required in an English Literature paper, rather than the more practical approach needed for this course.

With that in mind there are a few key things to focus your revision around:

1. Vision of the play:Last year I taught the EdExcel syllabus to a couple of pupils. Both of them studied the Moliere farce Tartuffe and had to answer a question as to how they would play or direct a particular character. What was key to getting a good mark was to have a very vivid picture of the world in which they would set the play and WHY they had made that decision. It is the sort of question every good theatre maker should ask themselves: why are they putting on this play? There have been countless productions of Shakespeare or Miller or Pinter, so why must there’s exist? The two pupils I taught went for wildly different approaches — one described a traditional 17th century costume and setting design, whilst the other updated it to 21st century middle America and made Tartuffe a televangelist. In each case, they had at least three solid reasons for staging the play in this manner and brief descriptions of the set.

2. Character portraits:Use A3 sheets of paper to break the essential elements of character up. Firstly, find four or five key elements of the character’s personality, backed up with brief quotation from the text. The key focus is on how they would be portrayed. To begin with, describe the costume and make-up of each individual character. One pupil I had last year drew a picture of each character — even if you’re not a great artist this can be really useful for your answer. As ever, the devil is in the detail. Tartuffe is a character that will obviously be dressed in suitably religious garb, but he is also a hypocrite. Items such as a crucifix that doubles as a hip flask or rosary beads that contain perfume are a hilarious and inventive addition. Once you have the nature and look of the character, focus on their voice and body. Where in their body will their voice be placed (nasal or chesty for example)? What will it’s pitch, pace, timbre, volume and tone be? What sort of ways would you have the actor use it? Similarly with the body, try and ascertain the various ways in which a character would move: where on their body do they lead from? Where is their centre of gravity? Is there a type of animal they could base their movement on?

3. Key Excerpts for Each Character:In addition to carving up a character based on their costume, voice and body, it is worthwhile identifying 3–5 key exchanges they have with other characters and the dynamics of these. In noting these down think about the status games involved in each relationship and how different characters try to have an affect on each other.

4. Stage directions:The other section of the paper involved explaining how you would direct a particular section of a chosen text. In our case it was Berkoff’s ‘The Trial’. It should go without saying that students will need to have a detailed understanding of each section of their chosen text. A good jumping off point are stage directions: examine each part of them and if there is room to be creative with them go into detail. In ‘The Trial’ Berkoff uses metal frames to create all sorts of different spaces. Sometimes he is extremely precise about what he wants — it is worth commenting on why this is and how you would interpret his vision. At other times he leaves things much more open to interpretation. For example, the play open with some music by Bach, but Berkoff does not suggest a particular piece — that’s up to you as the director to suggest a piece and justify your choice.

5. Diagrams:Most Theatre Studies paper differ from English Literature in that they require students to draw diagrams illustrating their ideas. You need not be a Picasso for this, but have a good understanding of perspective and elucidating your imagination accurately. Practice these drawings before you go into the exam. Preferably you should have a drawing for the beginning of each scene showing where you expect the actors to stand and how you expect the set and lighting to look. If the set is going to alter during the scene, make sure you draw how this is going to happen and what you expect the final result to look like, as well as where you would like the actors and ensemble to be stood.

Hopefully this should provide you a good working toolkit to dissect the texts you are studying and re-assemble them into effective answers in your exams.