Background information about studying Drama
A lot of people see Drama as a fairly easy option but it's a lot harder than people make out. Whilst it is looked on negatively by some universities, if studied alongside strong academic subjects it can really be quite an asset by setting you apart from other candidates by showing a different range of skills. Those choosing Drama for an easy ride will be disappointed with the amount of written work there is to do. Obviously there is a still a fairly large practical element, and just under half your lessons will be spent either creating your own performances based on a theme or topic set by your teacher, or rehearsing and performing extracts from plays you are studying. But don't be surprised to spend 3 or four hours a week sitting at your desk reading and absorbing tonnes of information.
How will it differ from GCSE?
Firstly, the weighting of the work changes to 60% theory and only 40% practical. Be prepared to take on the theory side and actually take your time going over it, because it's a lot more difficult than people think it will be. Unlike GCSE, the non-practical side doesn't just involve writing evaluations of plays seen or performed in, but you're expected to be able to talk about theoretical practices and how they'd be applied in performance. When I studied Drama we studied Brecht one year and Stanislavski the other (can't remember which way round though!)
Given all the practical rehearsals you have to undertake (usually outside of school hours) the workload when studying drama can actually be quite high. This is compounded if you don't keep a diary after every rehearsal as you portofilio will suffer in the long run. I think in general we had an essay a week, or at least 2 every three weeks, which is maybe slightly less than other essay based subjects.
Required Individual Study
In terms of individual study, there's not a great deal as long as you read over your notes and learn key terms and dates in advance of the exams.
How is it assessed?
This depends on your exam board. Generally, you will work practically and on paper while learning about drama form, conventions, practitioners, and theatrical history for a few months at AS. From this, you may move on to the study of one or two plays. After you have worked for a little while on these plays, you will write a coursework folder which normally has a 3000-5000 word limit. This coursework usually evaluates one performance you have seen (a play in a theatre or playhouse chosen by the teacher) and focuses on one or two of the plays you worked on in class. The coursework is worth 60% of your mark at AS, and 30% of your overall mark. After or during your coursework, you will usually begin work on the practical exam, which you will either devise and write as a class or take from an existing play. This is performed earlier than other exams, usually in April, which counts for 40% of your mark at AS and 20% of your overall mark.
For A2, you will start work on your practical exam almost immediately. This is because the exam is usually held in December/January of the following year, instead of in Summer with your other exams. This exam will be devised or performed from an existing play, or you will be given a stimulus from which to create a play. The practical is worth about 12.5% of your mark at A2, and about 6.25% of your overall mark. After the practical exam, you will begin writing a piece of coursework with a word limit of 3000-4000 words, explaining the devising/rehearsal process of the performance, the aims and influences which formed it, the research processes, and evaluating how well it all worked (among other things). This coursework is worth around 37.5% of your mark at A2, and about 18.75% of your overall mark. After all of this, you will start work on a final play, which you will sit an exam on in the summer. This exam is not practical; it is a written exam, and in the exam you will be describing how you would stage the play, including technical and aesthetic details (for both actors and director). This exam usually lasts around two and a half hours, and is worth 50% of your mark at A2, or 25% of your overall mark.
Field trips and excursions
Field trips and excursions aplenty! The great thing about Drama is that just going to the threatre counts as work! Ahhh, gone are the days I looked forward to matinee performances in London getting me out of an afternoon trawling through some ruddy dull lessons in other subjects.
Yes, plays, plays and more plays to be seen. Every performance you see counts as working, whether it's a professional performance in a big theatre with famous actors, or a small and intimate local performance (which are either excellent or really, really bad). You can always pick up new ideas from watching things performed, and it also gives you the opportunity to write about more live productions, which is something you have to do in the exam.
Where can I go with a Drama A-Level
Drama A-Level is often an essential requirement for drama/theatre courses at university, so if you are interested in this route you should take the A-Level if possible.
What I like about studying this subject: I loved creating and devising pieces of theatre. It was such a wonderful achievement to create a polished almost professional standard performance.
What I dislike about studying this subject: I didn't like applying all the theory knowledge. I never did brilliantly in my written exams and I could not tell you why. So all I can say is REVISE REVISE REVISE for the written exams and make sure you are writing what they ask you to write.
What I like about studying this subject: Using my creative and intellectual qualities to shape a unique piece of theatre. The whole magic involved in the phenomena of theatre - the communication between human beings of what it is like to be human. On a less poncey level, the opportunity to have a more relaxing and enjoyable subject to study. I found it really interesting.
What I dislike about studying this subject: The fact that many Uni's for some reason disapprove of it.
What I like about studying this subject: The performance side aspect. Especially the devised section and any visits to productions.
What I dislike about studying this subject: The theory side of it. I quite like the actual content but I hate the supporting notes.
What I like about studying this subject: The practical side, the contrast to other subjects and stress relief, getting to go out and see plays, having a sense of communal achievement when creating a piece, standing out on UCAS and proving people wrong when they said that I couldn't get into Oxford or UCL for a scientific degree with Theatre Studies! Also because it's so formulaic and written based, it is easy to do well without actually being good at acting.
What I dislike about studying this subject: Other people's stigma. The school's lack of funding meant a lot of unnecessary stress over resources.
What I like about studying this subject: Combination of practical and theory work. The course offers a fantastic experience as you can create your own original performances whilst gaining a solid grounding in key dramatic theory.
What I dislike about studying this subject: Group work with others who weren't committed to the subject and didn't put much effort in to practical projects. Also as with most A levels I found the written exams to be very restrictive; I achieved my best marks when I wrote exam papers based upon what the exam board wanted to read rather than my true ideas and interpretations of the text, for example in a 'how would you stage x scene' question. Learn the formula and you will do well.