Holy sh*t, my HSC Drama project made it to OnSTAGE

OnSTAGE, a showcase of select Drama works from HSC 2017, is currently on at Sydney’s Seymour Centre

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It was as a very young child that I first discovered my penchant for performing.

The magical world of make-believe beckoned seductively as I wore different costumes to become different characters.

You see, to me these characters weren’t names on a page; they were real people with unique personalities that lived perfectly-scripted, larger-than-life stories both on and off stage.

The thing I loved most about them was their ability to capture our minds and control our emotions, leaving us on the edge of our seats at times and watching through covered faces at others. I could never get enough.

The Merchant of Venice

After many holiday programs at NIDA and school play roles, my love for acting grew into a fascination for all things stage.

As an avid theatre goer with my family, I began to consider how the sets, costuming, lighting and props affect a performance.

I was hung up on how one lighting change can alter the mood of an entire act; what each set symbolises in a production; how each word in a script had a deeper meaning waiting to be analysed.

And so there was no negotiation when it came to choosing Drama as one of my HSC subjects, ‘low scaling’ be damned.

By this time, the theatre critic within me was emerging, taking in the reactions of audience members, studying the actors and directors of the shows I watched, and asking the ultimate question: what makes good theatre?

Throughout Year 12, I was granted the opportunity to answer that question not once, but four times, through my Portfolio of Theatre Criticism (or, in simple language, a set of theatre reviews).

The HSC Drama course is an anomaly compared to other subjects; put simply, it requires 2 Major Works to be completed alongside the study of state-endorsed academic content. With the exception of some other creative arts subjects such as Music and Art, a workload like this won’t be found anywhere else in the high school education program.

Yet, compared to my more conventional English, Maths and History classes, having a creative outlet like this provided the ‘escape’ I desperately needed from the stress of Year 12: the chance to see and review 4 shows of my choosing, assessing what I saw with my own unique voice.

Subsequently, throughout my Portfolio of Theatre Criticism, I sought to review plays that explored a range of forms and styles that drive Australian theatre today – a range that reflects the complexity and diversity of our society.

The shows I reviewed included:

  • Prize Fighter, a rags-to-riches boxing tale akin to Rocky albeit with African refugees;
  • The Testament of Mary, a stage adaptation of Colm Toìbin’s controversial humanisation of Saint Mary and her fears over Jesus’ reckless actions before crucifixion;
  • Still Life, a soporific 80-minute mix of dance, art installation and philosophy, and
  • Shit, the vulgar tragicomedy exploring the lives and losses of under-privileged Australian women.

Four guesses which show my teacher and parents were least excited for me to write about.

To “add another layer”, as the creative-type teachers constantly urge, I chose to present my reviews in the style of actual publications.

Prize Fighter was written in the style of a review in The Australian; The Testament of Mary as a feminist perspective for Feminaust; Still Life in the cocky and brash style of Honi Soit, USyd’s student publication; and Shit, for the well-known industry blog Shit On Your Play (SOYP). That last one, a great suggestion from one of my teachers, was a wonderful coincidence that I like to believe worked in my favour.

Adding “another layer”, for physical representation, I decided to replicate the layout and graphic styles of the chosen publications.

Having seen all my shows in January, the long process of writing and refining began. For all current Drama students, here is the key to success in the subject: long, hard work over a long, hard time.

Between January and the final submission date in August, I edited my pieces a total of 46 times, scrapping paragraphs at a time to start again, laying them out nicely, and agonising over the best order in which to present the four reviews.

Much like an actor would make changes to their pronunciation or body movement, I would amend one word or one comma that no one except me would fault, in order to create that perfect piece.

When I handed in the final, glossy 800-word pieces on 21 August (which my mum had printed out at Officeworks that morning), I was a little more than relieved.

A snippet of Manan’s theatre reviews

When word came through of my nomination, and ultimate selection for OnSTAGE, do believe me when I say I was surprised.

Having received the news earlier that my other Major Work, also nominated for OnSTAGE, did not make it to final selection, I felt my reviews had no chance.

Out of 200 students writing reviews in 2017, how could I be among the 3 selected? Well, the unthinkable happened. Portfolio of Theatre Criticism selected. State rank of 2nd in HSC Drama, with a mark of 99. ATAR above that.

My thanks go to my Drama teacher, Mr Michael Griffiths, my parents, and to the NSW Education Standards Authority for the opportunities I have had, and will continue to be granted, to follow my passion for writing and the creative arts.

I wouldn’t be writing this article if not for them.

To students out there considering or undertaking Drama, it will reward you in ways you won’t recognise.

No matter what your interests or opinions, Drama has a role to suit everyone. I cannot endorse it enough.

Macbeth