Focus in Performance

In our final two years of secondary schooling here in Victoria, Australia, the government-prescribed Drama course has various elements of drama/theatre grouped together as part of the theory that underpins the practical aspects of the course. Here are three sets of groups:

Dramatic Elements

  • focus
  • tension
  • timing
  • rhythm
  • contrast
  • mood
  • space
  • language
  • sound
  • symbol
  • conflict
  • climax

Expressive Skills

  • voice
  • movement
  • facial expression
  • gesture

Performance Skills

  • presence
  • energy

Why is FOCUS one of the “dramatic elements” and not one of the “expressive skills”???

One might argue it’s all semantics and why worry? But, if like me, you’re in the middle of a prescribed curriculum that mandates terminology in the course, questions such as this I believe, are important. It seems to me FOCUS would belong more happily as a fifth expressive skill in our Drama course….you know…focus, voice, movement, facial expression and gesture.

I understand a student actor is not necessarily “expressing” his/her focus in performance, but without focus, the quality of his/her four expressive skills is very poor indeed! On the flip side, strong focus will allow the four expressive skills of voice, movement, facial expressions and gesture to be powerful, believable and convincing in performance.  So why doesn’t focus belong in this category?

Here is my definition of focus I give my students:

Focus is often used interchangeably with the terms concentration and engagement, assisting the performer in the portrayal of believable characters. This also implies memorisation of text (including word, moves and gestures).  Furthermore, focus requires the channeling (focusing) of all the performer’s energies into achieving the given goals or objectives of a character in a scene (otherwise known as ‘wants’).

Now to me, not only does focus appear to lie awkwardly among its other cousins under the “dramatic elements” category of terms, but it also belongs more comfortably in the family of “expressive skills”. The “dramatic elements” are not necessarily linked to the student actor. They are elements of theatre that, when manipulated, create effective drama – such as contrast and mood in performance. But focus, on the other hand, seems to be directly associated with the individual performer, and should therefore be an “expressive skill”, not a “dramatic element”.

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on this……

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