Role call

7th December 2007 at 00:00
The popularity of performing arts in sixth form means the show will most certainly go on, says Rob John.At Paston Sixth Form College in Norfolk a group of key stage 5 pupils nervously rehearse a performance about The Peasants' Revolt. They have spent three months turning historical research into dance, drama and music and they are anxious because crucial grades are at stake.

They are not alone. In 10 years, the number taking drama and performance A-levels has more than doubled. More than 70,000 pupils in England and Wales gained level 3 drama-related qualifications this summer and this year had the highest ever completion of BTEC National performing arts.

"We tackle complex concepts and pupils have to show practical understanding of these ideas," says Mandy McKenna, head of expressive arts at Paston. "Teachers need creative strategies to make this happen."

Creative practice at Newham Sixth Form College in east London involves A-level drama pupils exploring the hyper-naturalism of an early Harold Pinter text, by first writing and performing scripts culled from everyday conversations. When they finally get to Pinter, there is a sense of recognition, their teachers say.

Again at Paston, preliminary exercises help pupils working on scenes from Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle. Pupils are told to ignore Brecht's dialogue and instead they film themselves as they describe the actions and thoughts of their characters, unwittingly using a range of Brechtian acting techniques.

At King Edward VI Community College in Devon, BTEC National pupils were commissioned by the school's careers department to create a show to help younger pupils make appropriate choices.

"Our sixth form drama pupils understand self-discipline, deadlines and the importance of teamwork," says Steve Jones, principal of King Edward. "They show very publicly that it's cool to work hard. They're hugely important role models in our school."

And KS5 does not have to mean the end of the road. UCAS currently lists more than 1,000 university courses with a drama component. For many, the show will certainly go on

Rob John, vice-principal of Paston Sixth Form College in north Norfolk, has taught A-level and BTEC performing arts courses for more than 20 years

To explore characterisation:

Write letters in role.

Communicate the essence and shape of a scene through movement.

Construct abstract still images to physicalise characters' state of mind.

Create a scrapbook of cuttings that illustrate the world of a character.

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