Student Blog: Hustling for the Spring

Assessments for a drama course in university is not a ballgame I've ever tackled before. A mix of theory and practical, it gets quite rowdy here.

By: Apr. 01, 2024
Student Blog: Hustling for the Spring
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Assessment season is upon us. Now that we have reached the time of our spring break, which is three weeks long (!), we don’t have as much time left as we think until we’re sight-singing for music literacy or performing our songs for the vocal recital. Those are just a few assessments out of the many that we have in the University of Winchester, all of which I will explain to you as we not only have performance-based assessments but also theory-based assessments. Having finished multiple performances, balancing the classwork on top of the load has been tricky but there really is a craft in managing all these different things. It has never been easy but once you get the groove of your flow, it becomes second nature. Still, there are times when things can get overwhelming but we hustle.

Advice is not my strongest suit so the closest teaching to it often comes from experience. So, come with me as I tell you all about my assessments as well as my preparation for each of them whilst balancing the few things I do outside of theatre to manage a healthy schedule. I love getting to share my experience from my course as not all drama courses run their assessments the same. The assessments have changed with time so perhaps a future student from my university might come across this blog with a completely different experience and they’ll get to imagine what they could have years before their own enrolment.

With the combination of theoretical and practical exams, it adds a lot more spice to the mix but also some ease from overtiring ourselves with too much to do practically.

These are not in any proper order!

Firstly, we have our vocal recital which accumulates to 80% of our total grade on our voice module. Like previous assessments so far, this is a public performance where we string up a revue. We are to perform 2 contrasting solos that must be at least a decade apart, and 1 duet with partners assigned by our vocal teacher. Alongside song prep, we’ve been assigned questions to fill up in our vocal journals, which we have had since first year, regarding character work (ex. Stanislavski’s Given Circumstances) and our rehearsal process individually and with our duet partner. We are currently in the process of staging all our songs as well as learning backing vocals for other duets to add on to the excitement. As we are in our Easter break, what I have been doing on my part is learning where to place my voice during the more difficult parts of the song as well as understanding the physicality of my characters to bring them to life as we transition from song to song. Thankfully, my duet partner and I have built the foundation of our blocking and set so all that’s left for us to do is fill in the gaps when we return. The recital will have 2 acts. We’ll have a solo in each act and our duets randomly allocated into either one.

Onto the remaining 20% of our voice module, we have our music literacy exam, a theory-based assessment. It’s organized into timeslots which we received the timetable for and each of us have an allocated time of 20 minutes. At the start of our slot, we will be given a slip of paper with a piece of music of two staves to work on in a room with a piano to test us on sight singing. We have to learn the piece of music in 10 minutes before we’re called into the exam room to sing to our lecturer. That’s where the next 10 minutes come in. It’s split up into two sections, starting off with sight singing then music knowledge questions based off a random piece of music that has nothing to do with your given slip. In preparation for this, all I can really say is practice, practice, practice. I started first year in the beginner class but at the start of second year, I was promoted to advanced with a few other friends which had us skip the intermediate level entirely so there was a lot to catch up with. I am rather nervous about this exam having no musical knowledge and only what I know from drumming, but after second year, I won’t have to face another music lit exam ever again (unless I learn an instrument again).

On the topic of theory-based assessments, we have our essay on theorists and musical theatre due by the end of the Easter break, so I certainly know where most of my time will be allocated. Throughout this academic module, we learn about different theories such as narrative theory, reception theory, gender studies and etc. From there, we have to select a theory from the array and apply it to a musical of our choice at a total of 2500 words. I find this one possibly one of the easier assessments because I’ve always been a bit of a writer and having taken 3 essay heavy A Level subjects, I should have a better grasp of what I’m doing. I thoroughly appreciate that we get to pick any form of media that is considered a musical as it broadens the variety and allows us to write on what we know best. I still went for a musical because there are some that I could write on about for ages, and said musical is Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 by the brilliant Dave Malloy. With the skeleton of my essay ready, all there is left to do is flesh it out.

Here is where it gets slightly more intensive. For our industry module, we have to prepare mock spotlight profiles on Padlet. The point of this assessment is mainly to gauge our knowledge of what sort of information and content to provide best showcases us as performers. Our lecturer has provided us a clear example of how it should look and it consist of everything we need. Filling up the information is where it starts of simple. The intensive part about this are the self-tapes we need to film. We are to film 5 2-minute cut songs, all of which contrast one another with a range of genres within our casting type. The more layers there are, the more complicating I found it but I’m relieved that our vocal teacher assigned us a repertoire sheet in first year so I have my songs covered. It’s the matter of cutting our tracks and filming that I find tricky but with the information settled, there is a lot less for me to worry about.

Lastly, we have our acting. I saved this one for last as this one may well be the most complex assessment we have so far. The point of this assessment is to see how much we understand and how we implement Meisner’s techniques in Brechtian theatre. The script is almost deceivingly simplistic, with only the characters, Man and Woman, in a duologue. However, our teacher explained to us the approach she had planned which was to involve everyone in a single run, splitting down the middle to assign half of us as Man and the other half as Woman. With that, she assigned everyone a letter to keep track of us. For example, I am Man E. We have Woman A to F, and Man A to G. We were then given some time in our grouped casting to split up our lines according to our dramaturgical tastes, blind to whatever the Woman group was planning in order to stimulate the authenticity that Meisner’s technique practices. We are yet to stage it but the idea was that there are several tables in a café setting and what should have been a duologue has become multiple conversations across multiple couples in the same space. Even explaining it here was quite complicating but as far as I am aware, it is the teachers who handpick what script we do so this may not be the same to future cohorts. I’ve never done anything like this so I’m really eager to see how it turns out in the end. This, unfortunately, is not a public performance but we hope that we’ll be able to see the approach of the other class to the same piece as our teacher was very insistent that she did not want them to be the same.

Having explained and confronted each of these assessments in this blog, it’s brought me some amount of peace to know that I have just been overcomplicating them in my head which has been stressing me out. I know I work better under stress as it pushes me to do better but over this 3 week break, I’m learning how to be kinder to myself which is just as important.

It’s interesting how some of the assessments, mainly the performance-based ones, cater to our cohort based on our characters and style to show us off more. From what we were told, my cohort thrives on character performance and comedy which was evident in our show in February, You’re A Catch, Why Are You Single? Acting is currently the biggest challenge, in my opinion, as we are confronted with an incredibly serious script but we are still thriving on the development solid characters.

I hope this has shed some light on what we do in a university’s drama course, which is truly hands-on. Nothing would have prepared me for the mental and physical gymnastics of the variety we have to do here, but it’s more tools under our belt for the industry. 

I'm taking a moment to reminisce a few moments, hence the cover picture from You're a Catch. Spring break marks a checkpoint that we're nearing the end of our second year and in no time, we'll be in our third and final year which is something I cannot fathom right now as I right this. As much as the hustle is, I'm going to miss it all very soon.