Sitting your first exam? 3 things I wish I knew...
Your first exam is a milestone. Do it right.
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Ever get the impression that people assume the practical part of a Drama and Theatre studies exam is a bit of a let off, a bit of a doss? Well, in actual fact, in written exams we have a huge amount of time to prepare, so we can practice answering the questions a hundred times over so that when it gets into the exam it’s just a case of remembering the information and applying appropriately. Yet, when it comes to a Practical Drama exam, it’s no longer a case of preparing theoretically for the exam, but of being 100% concentrated and focus for a period of time. So in an exam if you spell something wrong or write an entirely wrong paragraph, you can cross it out and start again. In a Practical Drama exam, however, if you mess it up in a single moment, it could cost you some vital grades. Here are some simple tips to help ensure you are fully prepared and stress-free before that vital practical examination...
I would at this point suggest you should know your lines, blocking and direction like the back of your hand, but I couldn’t tell you much about the back of mine so let’s just say make sure you know them really, really well. Like the back of favorite Call of Duty map, let’s settle with that.
A good way to ensure that you are 100% confident with your lines is to speed run them. Get together with the other performers in your group and run through the scenes as fast as you possibly can. This will train your memory to act almost impulsively when receiving the cue from someone else’s line. It acts almost as muscle memory, and by going so quickly, it ensures that you aren’t hesitating to remember because the moment you hesitate, you go back to the beginning and do it again. And again. Until you get it right. Be vigilant with your brain and the more you do it, the more you will associate certain parts of the script with images in your brain or even the intonation of their voice, and these will act as the trigger. Knowing your lines inside out is a great pressure and weight off your shoulders walking into that exam, and doing it together and seeing everybody else is confident ultimately helps the environment of the group.
Some quick red hot tips on how to memorize lines!!!
Record yourself saying all the corresponding lines to yours so that when you practice your lines on your own you have a recording of the other lines to act as your cue, so you can get used to responding to someone
If you’ve got a long monologue or speech, a good way of cramming all of that information into your head is to split it up. Separate it into three or four parts and learn each section individually. Start with the first section and go over it and over it until you know it backwards. At this point we want to create a connecting image in our mind or significant word that triggers the next section.
e.g from Midsummer Night’s Dream
“And run through fire i will for thy sweet sake,
Transparent Helena, nature shows art
That through thy bosom, makes me see thy heart..."
At this point the next line begins “but where is Dimitrius?” so I would suggest creating a connecting image between “makes me see thy heart”; the image of seeing can connect to the idea of looking for Dimitrius. So straight away we have connected the first part of Lysander’s monologue, to the next part.
Now don’t worry, I’m not about to ask you to ‘get deep for a minute’ or ‘to really get a feel of the character’ or any of that malarkey. All we suggest is to make sure that a good hour or so before the examination begins you really start to focus on the task ahead. Nerves and excitement can get the better of us and we can end up just chatting to each other, as ourselves and then ultimately not being in the right frame of mind for what is a serious exam. Now, without asking you to start dressing like your character and talking like your character at the dinner table. No one wants Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage around for dinner. Nope.
The best thing you can do is start to fully settle yourself, do some breathing exercises (which I will discuss shortly. Yes, I know it’s exciting but wipe down your computer screen of the water you just spat out in shock) as this is what we suggest you do...
Start to think only of the opinions, desires and ultimate goal of the character you are performing as. Get rid of any the normal thoughts you might have, or any of the thoughts you have about the character itself: it’s time to think as them.
Try to avoid getting giddy, which seems like quite a Professor Snape thing to say but in actual fact, the more excitable you are on stage, the more likely it is you’ll break focus or even worst, burst out laughing. Ever had the desire to burst out laughing during a serious moment? Yeah? Well that isn’t because you found something funny, it is because you are nervous and that is your brains best way of dealing with it. We need to channel those nerves into focus, which can begin that hour before your performance.
Finally, drink lots of water and avoid shouting, as your voice, unlike your pen holding style, is what is important in this situation. Projection is a huge part of performing and without it; it could cost you some vital grades.
Now before you start moaning that I’m asking you to breathe, bear in mind that it is much more of a demand to ask you to learn pages and pages of lines than it is to breathe. We all breathe every second of the day, a few controlled breaths won’t harm anyone...the opposite, in fact.
This is the point where we need to channel our ‘inner-gap yah’. If you’ve never been on a Gap Yah (translated into Gap Year) then you won’t need to once you’ve finished this exercise. You’ll just be missing the novelty Harem trousers that were bought in India and Made in China.
This is just a simple breathing exercise that ensures our brain is getting enough oxygen and ultimately a lot of endorphins that will help us in terms of concentration, energy and complete focus. The exercise goes as such; it is the most commonly used and also the easiest to do!
Three simple steps...
Breath in for 10 seconds (nice and slowly, don’t make the mistake most students make and breath in too much by the third second and then ultimately suffocating for the rest of the exercise.)
Hold for 10 seconds (try not to laugh as this ruins the work you’ve done so far, as funny as it is watching someone hold their breath)
Release for 10 seconds (nice and slowly, let the air out of your lungs and feel your brain swarm in a sea of endolphins ((nearly))).
Repeat two or three times.
If you take these simple steps, you are 80% of the way to nailing your Practical exam, all you need to do now is DO IT.