Tips from one of last year’s Drama judges

Drama is one of the most exciting categories at National Capital History Day — it’s fun to watch and it really helps underscore the idea of bringing history to life, which is what our event is all about (our hashtag for last year’s event was #HistoryAlive).

We asked one of last year’s judges in this category, Jim McNabb, to give us some advice to pass along to students who plan on entering Drama this year (many Ottawa students and teachers already know Jim as the director of Ottawa’s annual Cappies Gala at the National Arts Centre).

Jim McNabb was one of the judges at last year's National Capital History Day, and he plans to join us again this year. Photo courtesy of Jim McNabb.

Jim McNabb was one of the judges at last year’s National Capital History Day, and he plans to join us again this year. Photo courtesy of Jim McNabb.

Jim, who is the former head of drama at Canterbury High School, has some excellent tips. He says:

• The presentation should be in the form of a skit, or collection of pieces, which is devised from research material and thoroughly rehearsed, not an improv.  It should not be simply a recitation of facts or a debate.  There needs to be a narrative line.

• The presentation should have a clear theme and incident(s), and develop an idea pertaining to the overall theme of the day.

• It should have a plot line that tells a story, or if it is a collection of pieces, each bit should advance the idea of the presentation.

• There should be characters, perhaps with costumes or costume bits and props such as a fan or walking stick.

• The dialogue should be well chosen to advance the plot.  Rehearsal of the dialogue will make the speakers more believable and real.

• Music, either instrumental or vocal, could be part of the presentation but not the sole element. Songs could be original or adaptations of previously written material.

• You might consider asking your Drama teacher to view the presentation and give advice.

That last point is pretty important. If your teacher is unavailable, try presenting your project to a group of classmates, friends or family to get feedback. Does your presentation make sense? How is the pacing (too fast? too slow?)? Can it hold your audience’s attention for 10 minutes?

Unfortunately, we don’t have any video footage of students who entered this category last year at National Capital History Day, but we do have videos of the junior group performances that won first and second place at National History Day 2013 in College Park, Maryland (keep in mind that National History Day’s annual theme that year was Turning Points in History, which is not the same as our annual theme for National Capital History Day this year) :

Jim’s point that your Drama presentation must reflect our annual theme is also very important. If you’re not sure what the theme is, you can find all the info you need here.

And if you’re curious about how Drama entries are judged, you can download our judges’ evaluation forms here.

Finally, don’t forget to download a National Capital History Day rulebook here so that you can familiarize yourself with the specific guidelines for this category.

Still not sure if this category is for you? Check out our handy guide to all the categories of National Capital History Day — it will help you decide the best format for your research and the category that best suits your personality.

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