The VCE Drama 2017 Solo Performance Examination for final year students offers ten character choices – real and fictional, human and non-human – taken from a variety of stimuli that will appeal to all kinds of students and interests.
This year’s exam offers students three invented characters, a character from a novel, a character from a film who is a dog, a character from a children’s book by one of the world’s most famous authors, a character from a West End play, and three actual persons (all deceased).
Students need to follow the examination advice carefully. All exam characters are set out in the same fashion with:
The opening sentences
– provide background to the character
– indicate where and/or when the performance takes place
– establish the audience
– provide insight into the emotional state or motivation of the character.
(these opening sentences normally include invented content)
The three dot points (DP)
– DP1 begins with the word recreating and requires students to present material that is researched directly from the stimulus.
– DP2 begins with the word creating and requires students to invent material that might or could have happened.
– DP3 requires students to move beyond the stimulus and to respond to the scenario outlined using imagination and creativity
All characters must be portrayed in the gender identified in the prescribed structure outlined on the exam paper, although students may perform any character of the opposite gender to themselves (e.g. a female student performing a character identified on the exam as being male, or vice-versa).
Character 1: The Fortune Hunter
The first of three invented characters, The Fortune Hunter is based on the legend of El Dorado, the lost city of gold. This character should appeal to students who enjoy adventure and suspense. It is easy to see why suggested reference material includes the films Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lara Croft: Tomb-Raider. I would add the video game Uncharted to this list. Caricature is aptly listed as the prescribed convention, requiring students to exaggerate and enhance the personality and features of their Fortune Hunter in pursuit of El Dorado. Tension should play a key element in this solo structure, rising to the ultimate (prescribed) climax in the plot. Looks like a lot of fun!
Character 2: Lady Lucy Duff Gordon
One of three characters in this year’s solo exam based on real persons, Lady Lucy Duff Gordon (1863-1935) is considered the first British-based fashion designer to achieve international acclaim. She was also a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, being on the passenger liner from Southampton to New York on that fateful day in 1912 in order to bring her spring couture collection to America. Scandalously, the first lifeboat to safety accommodated 40 people, yet only had 12 on board, mostly the crew and Lady Duff Gordon and her husband. According to The Telegraph “A controversial character, Duff Gordon was regularly sued for customs fraud, breach of contract and non-payment of bills”. Her life included wealth, an extra-marital affair, and dressing some of the most famous actresses of her day. Based on aspects of her adventurous career and life, this solo has caricature prescribed to highlight Lucy Duff Gordon’s personality.
Character 3: Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger
This is one of two prescribed structures on the 2017 exam where students get a choice of two characters. Portraying either Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger, students need to be aware this solo is based on the plot of the current West End play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne (the eighth instalment in the Harry Potter series), not one of the Harry Potter novels or films. This solo centres around a Time-Turner and DP3 asks the student to compare this Time-Turner with another fictional object of power that fell into the wrong hands. Exaggerated movement is prescribed. This solo will obviously appeal to Harry Potter fans and my guess is this structure may well end up being the most popular character on this year’s exam. Keep in mind, even with two character choices, female students can choose to portray Ron Weasley if they like and vice-versa, as long as the character is performed in the gender prescribed and known of in the stimulus.
Character 4: Jonas
The only solo structure with a character taken directly from a novel, Jonas is a young boy, the central character in The Giver by Lois Lowry, 1933. The Giver is set in a world that first appears to be utopian by the characters who inhabit it, but turns out to be anything but this. The stem of the solo begins where the novel ends, with DP1 recreating moments of the events in the community of the world in The Giver. Bestowed upon Jonas is the act of being the new Receiver (of the community’s collective memories), which leads him to wishing to be “released” from his world to “Elsewhere”. DP3 links the world of the novel to exploring another person, real or fictional, and what they have done in order to gain their freedom. Heightened use of language and mood are prescribed.
Character 5: Mr John Kemble or Mrs Sarah Siddons
The second of three characters on the 2017 exam based on a real person, this structure offers the student an opportunity to either perform Mr John Kemble or Mrs Sarah Siddons. These two were the leading actors in the sole performance of Vortigern and Rowena, London, 1792, a play believed to be a long-lost Shakespearean text, but soon revealed as a fake and forgery. This solo needs to include aspects of Comedy of Manners, a style of performance ridiculing the customs and social mores of members of the upper class. Comedy of Manners plays were popular in England during the Restoration in the 1660s and 1670s, then revived a century later in the 1770s, and once more in the 1880s and 1890s. This alone should make for entertaining performances in the exam room, with heightened use of movement and language prescribed.
Character 6: The Storyteller
The Storyteller character may be fictional, but the event it is based on is very real. The prescribed stimulus is Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s protest song From Little Things Big Things Grow. The song follows the Wave Hill walk-off (1966-1975), or strike, by Gurindji stockmen, domestic workers and their families at the Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory. This dispute was significant because, among other things, it led to the first legislation allowing Indigenous Australians to claim land title – in this case the Gurindji people were returned part of their land. DP3 asks for a parallel with another real person who fought for human rights and/or land rights in another country. Suitably, pathos is prescribed as the convention in this solo, along with symbol. This should prove a dramatic solo for students who believe in a cause and wish to be challenged.
Character 7: Mr Sneelock
The character of Mr Sneelock comes from the children’s book If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss. It is not the first time we have had Dr. Seuss as prescribed stimulus in a solo exam. Back in 2008, The Cat in the Hat was a very popular exam choice for VCE Drama students. This time around, well-known 19th century showman P.T. Barnum, founder of the famous American 19th century Bailey and Barnum Circus, is linked with the Dr Seuss stimulus. After the apparent closing of Circus McGurkus, Mr Sneelock is now out of work and has to convince P.T. Barnum to hire him in the Bailey and Barnum Circus. While exaggerated movement is prescribed, I’m a little surprised heightened use of movement and language wasn’t prescribed instead, given the nature of dialogue in the Dr. Seuss stimulus. Of course, this is not to say students cannot add heightened use of language to the exaggerated movement, anyway. Also prescribed is circus skills and attention to the use of space, which should appeal to lots of students. Once solo exam centres are released to schools around Week 3 of Term 3, students should ask their teachers to do some homework on the likely floor surface/s at the relevant exam centre. It always helps if students have some advance knowledge of the possible floor surface in the exam room, particularly when using circus skills! Another fun solo.
Character 8: The Pilgrim
The fictional character The Pilgrim is derived from the stimulus Monkey, a whacky 1970s Japanese television show (note: Season 1, Eps 1, 2, 3 <1978>). This reminds me of last year’s character Arbiter Maven from the unusual television series This is Jinsy. Teachers and students should not get confused when researching this solo, as the show Monkey is also referred to as Monkey Magic due to the theme song title. The plot of Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy going on a pilgrimage to India to search for the sacred scrolls / holy scriptures, the various dangers and enemies they encounter along their journey, plus the magical powers of Monkey, are all tied together in this solo. The natural and supernatural coexist in the world of the prescribed magical realism. At first glance, magical realism may appear an odd choice, but it is the magical aspect that is non-naturalistic, including the likelihood of non-human characters. DP3 links this solo to a potentially very open exploration of examples of other pilgrimages undertaken by people throughout history, where students should select carefully (note the pluralisation).
Character 9: Elisabeth Hauptmann
All students undertaking VCE Drama Unit 3 (and hence this solo performance examination) should know who Bertolt Brecht is, the German practitioner known for his epic theatre style. Elisabeth Hauptmann was one of Brecht’s key collaborators and worked closely with him on the book of The Threepenny Opera (sometimes referred to as a musical, but actually a “play with music”). A quick scour of various editions of this play will instantly reveal few versions credit Elisabeth Hauptmann for her work with Brecht on this text. This solo starts after the death of Brecht in 1956 with the fictional circumstance of Hauptmann approaching Brecht’s actress-widow Helene Weigel, demanding royalties and acknowledgement as the true playwright of The Threepenny Opera. This is a great solo structure involving key moments of Hauptmann’s working life with Brecht, the challenges faced with herself and other German artists after Hitler came to power, plus a fictional ‘unseen’ epic theatre production in DP3. After Hitler’s rise in 1933, German artists such as Brecht and Hauptmann were left with three choices:
- Write propaganda plays about an all-powerful Nazi world
- Go underground and risk the consequences
- Stop writing altogether.
Brecht was in the position to choose Option 4(!) – leave the country on a self-imposed exile to live and write freely elsewhere. Suitably, epic theatre and song are prescribed in this solo. Students should note song in an epic theatre context should involve a message and is a key epic theatre convention. Conflict is clearly seen between Hauptmann and Weigel, but could also exist in the inner conflict of artists after Hitler’s rise.
Character 10: The Show Dog
From time to time, non-human characters appear on the annual VCE Drama solo performance examination and when they do, they nearly always have aspects of physical theatre prescribed. This is the case with The Show Dog character, one of the five main show dogs as seen in the film Best in Show. This sort of a solo can appeal to students who have undertaken significant physical work in their VCE Drama classes. Students should work with their knowledge, expertise and strengths. If little physical theatre work has been undertaken in class, yet the appeal of a show dog exists, this may not be enough to suitably choose this character for the exam. Students with physical theatre experience and/or dance skills often excel in these types of solos, while other students poorly choose a character such as this and find the task much more challenging than initially anticipated. Caricature is prescribed in this solo, which should aid in the development and realisation of the character of The Show Dog.
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