Our drama subject specialist, Karen Latto, explains the decision to include a variety of performances for the live theatre requirement at GCSE, countering misinformation that students now get less.
Our new GCSE Drama specification came under fire last week over 'nonsense' new rules which will 'allow students to pass the course without seeing any live theatre'. The truth of the matter is that OCR GCSE Drama students were able to pass the course without seeing any live theatre… until now.
The vision at the heart of the new OCR Drama specification is creativity, hence the introduction of the live theatre analysis, but we have also added a strong underlying goal that there are no barriers to accessing it, for any student, anywhere in the country. For example, students who want to be designers can now take design in both the non-exam assessment components; teachers can choose their own performance texts; we've gone with a structured exam paper, with students able to write in the question booklet, giving both short and extended responses to demonstrate their knowledge, and lastly, as you may have heard in the news recently, we've defined live theatre to include a wider range of performances.
We discussed recordings of live theatre performances at our biannual Creative Arts Forum and we were very much assured by the industry professionals present that the industry was changing and was most definitely headed in a digital direction. Theatres are looking to expand what they do and broadcast their work to different sorts of people; digital recordings allow them to do this. This is further evidenced by this week's news that the Royal Shakespeare Company has announced all schools can access a free live screening of the Merchant of Venice, something welcomed by our culture secretary, Ed Vaizey MP, on Twitter.
We also learned more about how digital recordings are made and were pleased to hear that they retain the artistic integrity of the original stage performance. This is down to the fact that it is theatre directors themselves who are in control of how these performances are filmed; they make all the artistic choices which lead to deciding what the audience behind the screen sees;Digital recordings retain the artistic integrity of the original stage performance it's the exact same creative vision as that which audience members would experience in a theatre, just accessed differently. Press coverage of this issue has focused on digital recordings of live theatre performances, whereas in reality, this is just one of a range of options our new GCSE Drama specification offers for the 'live theatre' component; students also have the option of seeing amateur performances, productions in their own school, or youth theatre; the only restriction is that they must evaluate something over an hour in performance length. It’s all about opening up the specification so that there is a suitable option available to everyone and helping those students who would otherwise not be able to take advantage of this new component on our specification.
Reading all the views from last week's article in the Stage magazine, I was pleased that everyone was in agreement that live performance is invaluable for drama students, but I was very surprised that the new requirements in our specification were misunderstood, with one commentator stating it "should absolutely include sitting in a theatre and sharing the experience of live performance" - our specification clearly states that performances must be watched as a group in order to recreate the experience of a theatre visit. Our specification was also deemed to support "a restrictive, limiting and lazy approach to teaching" – this is not true. It was important to me that we didn’t essentially have a gatekeeper, I didn't want the recorded performance option to be something that teacher's had to ask for permission to use as I didn’t want to be making decisions about a school I don’t know and students I don’t know, it just didn’t seem appropriate. Teachers know best about what their students need, what’s readily available for them, and how best to deliver learning experiences within these parameters.
When asked for comment on the above article I reinforced our view that live theatre is "a critical part of the study of drama at every level". But, having myself seen and been impressed by recordings of live theatre performances, there’s no disadvantage to a student who chooses this as their route to access this new requirement of the specification and it should therefore be available as an option for everyone, not just those who may otherwise have been excluded from this part of the course. Drama teachers unerringly make decisions in the best interests of their students and we want to make it easier for them to get their students engaged with the drama and theatre around them. This is not about restricting or limiting the specification, it’s about opening up avenues of teaching and learning and allowing teachers to decide how to take advantage of the amazing resources around them.
Research by our Group Assessment Research and Development team factored into the new A Level Drama specification and is published in the latest edition of Research Matters (page 23)
Karen Latto - Subject Specialist - Performing Arts
Before joining OCR, Karen taught a range of creative subjects in secondary education for seven years. During her teaching career Karen taught Drama, Music, Performing Arts and Media across Key Stage 3-5. One of the highlights of Karen's time teaching was her involvement with organising a number of school productions and performances. Karen is really excited to be working on developing the new qualifications and supporting teachers across the country with the changes to Drama and Performing Arts education over the coming years and beyond.