Heartbreaking statistical stabbing of students in their hearts via the ACT Senior Educational System

While the ACT senior Education system prides itself on having the best outcomes in the country, there is a dark underbelly that most people are probably unaware of ... Did you know it is statistically almost impossible for two students doing the same exam, with the same marker but from different schools or cohorts to get the same score for exactly the same results on a test? Even with the SAME PERSON MARKING! Suppose both students from different cohorts got 79%. Once the consideration of the cohorts and school group are considered in scaling, the same students would receive vastly different results. One may receive 85% (for example) while the other receives 60%. The ACT educational statistician will find all sorts of statistical reasons why this is satisfactory and even obligatory. Are most parents aware of this as their children are sent off to various schools? Does this figure into their voting patterns when electing governments on educational grounds?

IF you doubt my assertion, then check it out with the BSSS. They will give you a round-about way of saying yes it is correct ... then they will add "BUT" ... AND ... the statistician will explain why it is necessary for the poor bugger whose score goes from 79% to 60% is a statistical necessity for the common good ...

In such a case, the statistician cannot blame teachers for marking the poor bugger with the 60% or elevating the "good" student to 85% when the teacher gave both students 79%. However, in most instances where scores drop in the scaling process, the teachers are blamed for marking too easily or for setting tasks which don't appropriately measure real academic skills. School Administrators might also be blamed for getting some aspect of this system slightly wrong in the estimates of averages.

The indicator of a student's worth is only partially determined by their actual output and results. The final outcome is determined by statistical algorithms that have little to do with the reality of their assessment.

If you doubt this, then let's look at a specific example.

A student of Performing Arts where there is a total cohort of 19 students receives a final score from his teachers of 58%. His grades and scores for his individual assessment tasks were slightly below those received in his English classes which scaled within range of his actual achievements. But he came out with a 58% score that might have been higher except he blundered in one of the assessment tasks. The 19 students were subject to statistical scaling around a fairly low mean score; however many did well and improved on their previous scores meaning that the mean for the group was well above what historically had been allocated for these 19 students. Now, our 58% student who scored slightly less in his tasks than he did in English has his score scaled down to 29%.


29% on his report card! 29% less than most notional zero scores! 29% for a student who actually did something and contributed a competent and at times a very significant level of work. 29% ??? and of course it is the teachers' fault for marking the group too easily ... Yet almost all the scores on each task were less than the scores given to the same students in English with a larger cohort ... This might well be a fictional story! However it says it clearly what is happening in the ACT. Small cohorts are decimated. Small group moderation isn't allowed any more.

Imagine you are that student in that family and you have 29% on your report card when your teachers gave you around 60% ??? This is statistical stabbing in the heart of students by a heartless and Dalek inspired reductionist system that ignores the person in favour of a number.

Trinculo 24 November 2022

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Updated: Nov 20

Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

"Troilus and Cressida" is regarded as one of Shakespeare's problematic plays. It is difficult to pigeon hole and seems to be an ill-fated wedding of two competing stories somehow thatched together. Yet the play is more contemporary in themes and more a play about youthful energies than any of his other works. In developing a production of it, I take my cue from a former student who advised that to present Shakespeare to today, one shouldn't just adapt it but rather one should produce it as if it had never been done before. This has implications for analysis, preparation and design that gives rise to some very pertinent processes that may reframe Shakespeare's writing into something quite different and unexpected.

The Process

Trying to forget whatever we have read about the play, has meant we are totally focused on what our audience will actually perceive

After numerous discussions between Director and Dramaturg, auditions were held for a suitable cast.

Seeing who was available played a part in cutting and adapting the actual text. Seeing the work through the eyes of our likely contemporary audience, we did something we haven't ever done before: add in some commentaries on the action as spoken by Narrators ... likely to be mainly from the characters of Pandarus and Thersites. Trying to forget whatever we have read about the play, has meant we are totally focused on what our audience will actually perceive.

While generally dividing the Greeks and Trojans into two gangs, we have focused on the youthful energies contained in the violence, the playfulness, sexuality, manipulations, posturing, narcissism and vanities that give rise to peer insecurities. The work seems to be more about appearances, playing to other's views about who we are and surviving within this giant fabrication ... as Shakespeare elsewhere says this "great stage of fools".

Our characters dress up their insecurities and vulnerabilities in costume and dress-ups as if on a catwalk presenting themselves to each other and to audiences. Yet all, except perhaps Thersites, Pandarus and Ulysses are fools.

The implications for us are these:

  • actors jump in and out of character with a sense of playful working the moment

  • that imagined fourth wall is consistently broken

  • the audience becomes part of the show

  • the moments of really high intensity are held up very clearly for the audience's examination and consideration

  • the actors cannot hide behind characters; meaning they need to be super confident in all they do for the whole performance and share an ease with each other and the audience

  • where possible the characters reveal their narcissistic qualities for seeking approval or simply consciously constructing how they are to be seen by other ...

  • Brecht's approaches are very useful.

The Design

The "Frypan" design aims for a suggestion of the ancient and mythic with a simple and minimalist design of a reverse catwalk. It may also appear like a wharf or pier ...

The audience will be surrounding the stage area on three sides with some table seating directly in front.

The scale set model is scaled at 6cm per 1 metre. The audience seating plan is not to scale and so is a rough approximation to the stage and I would suggest they will be closer that suggested in this diagram.

A functioning bar will be located at the back of the room. This will add to the party feel of the occasion.

Actors with RSA qualifications will be characters behind the bar and assist in making the night an integrated affair.

The over-all design will be one of integration and exposure of vulnerabilities from cast, audience and characters.

First Time for the Play

In effect, the play will be produced for the first time; even though it was written over four hundred years ago. It deals with emerging sexuality, the confrontation of insane wars, the absurdity of the adult world and it's preoccupation with honour, survival and tribalism.

The work will have much to say. It will challenge the general narcissism of our culture, youth culture, consumerism, nationalism and any ism you wish to name. Much of this will be shown through the costume and make-up designs. These will differentiate the Greeks from the Trojans. Greeks being more militant and "post Nazi punkish" while the Trojans will be more "Steam punk passively aggressive metro-individuals" ... but all are quite foolish and absurd. They all parade on a catwalk that comes from some cultural nowhere land and presents to an even more culturally wasted auditorium of would-be serious certainists (ie. People who feel certain in their understanding of everything)!

I give you "Troilus and Cressida"

Joe Woodward Artistic Director

BOOKINGS CAN NOW BE MADE: https://events.humanitix.com/troilus-and-cressida

Also see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoKKhaxLXw8





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Updated: Sep 1

The Killing of Astianax. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=528997

Why do some teachers fear the "Trojan Women" and embrace "Grease"?

If you type into the Google search engine "The Trojan Women in schools" you will find first up on the search list: https://unwomen.org.au/unw_events/the-trojan-women/ The production aligned itself with support for Afghan women's struggle against the Taliban. The women had some prominence after the initial Taliban victory. However, their story is now largely forgotten and ignored.

It was also notable that many teachers attended the performance of "The Trojan Women" by DTC in The Old Chapel Studio in Canberra. It was also apparent that they got a lot out of the production and expressed gratitude for the company's achievement.

Yet this is not typical. Schools will often proclaim a reason for theatre productions being the ability to offer their students a "lens" through which to see the world; or something similar. But then they offer trite American musicals of total distraction such as "Back to the Eighties" (a dated and sexist piece of tripe), "Grease" (a disturbing and disgraceful popular work that normalises date rape and male physical suppression of girls), "Barnam" and other sentimental works such as "Annie" that simply evoke nostalgia for a mythic American Dream. Why is it that the more prestigious the school, the more likely the blanding out of theatre to confirm the notion of theatre as simply a side issue and pleasant frill! This is possibly an oddity, given that the wealthy are more likely to be in tune with arts movements than patrons for school theatre in poorer neighbourhoods! However, they are also more likely to demand the suppression of students from challenging privileged and entrenched class positions and attitudes. And so if theatre even exists in such schools, the chances are that it will be suppressed and offered in sparse doses ... possibly biennially! The entrenched thinking is that the arts are somehow pleasant and beneficial yet benign additives to the main game.

And students, fed on diets of narcissistic American entertainments, constantly clamour and lobby for Performing Arts departments and community theatres to present works such as "Grease", "Heathers" and / or "High School Musical".

"Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?" (Grease)

Yet over the years, teachers have said to me that shows designed with such values as depicted uncritically in "Grease" and other shows designed for five-year-olds are far more their theatre "cup-o-tea" than the likes of "The Trojan Women". I have even had teachers lobby students in High School NOT to go and see the likes of Brecht's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui"! So what is so frightening about theatre that challenges the stereotype and theatre that goes beyond distraction?


Part of the problem is an on-going misconception as to what Drama programs and theatre are all about.

Scratch an educational institution's administration thinking and one is likely to find enthusiastic support for the prestige and cultural artistry that theatre / musical presentation can bring. Lists of successful past student artists can be found adorning the walls and foyers of such places. Yet an examination of the programming of content and presentations may well provide a disturbing picture; a deceptive hologram of devotion to cultural distraction and pandering to American-centric affirmations of mythic proportions.

While community theatre and professional theatre has observable strands of more intensive cultural examination to some extent offering a balance to the kinds of Lyric Theatre presentations seen regularly in Australia, schools by and large are still locked into the "Look-at-me; Look-at-me".

And this has an effect on staff and the more artistically inclined teachers.

Teachers live with fear everyday. They are the meat in the cultural sandwich between social values, parental inadequacy, government bureaucracies, student thuggery, administrative limitations; between all this is their illusion of an idealistic ability to affect change and implement curriculums that might enhance the human condition. Teachers suck it in when some "experts" who got their Ph Ds in some area of education to escape the classroom and having to deal with real kids, now come to pontificate in schools about education necessity! Teachers basic fear of their own inadequacy prevents them from revolting and proclaiming what they essentially know to be true. And YES! This is an overstatement! There are lethargic teachers as well! But equally, there are very frustrated teachers who are being thwarted by systems of enforced mediocrity. One might just look at the new ACT curriculum being enforced by the ACT BSSS to witness mediocrity in action! And this is reflected in the arts.

For the teacher who simply loves musicals, it is not necessarily an issue which musical they choose to work on with students. But I question why there is a consistency in non-critical works that are simply culturally affirming of a particular world view and that provide little or no critical cultural values other than affirmation of the American Dream or some nostalgic English resonance of past sentimental journeys. The musical form is not the issue; rather it is the content. The same might also apply to the constant choosing of uncritical adaptations of the English theatre canon.

If teachers of the arts are trying to evoke a lens through which to see the world, then simply fabricating artificial and false dichotomies illustrated by so many chosen musicals is not going to do it. While acknowledging that in spite of the content of a musical, the student performer may rise above the content and still evoke something that is challenging, exciting and engaging, the point still stands. Pandering to lowest common denominator tastes from audiences and students alike is not going to provide any kind of lens for viewing and approaching life and the world. At best it provides a sense of team challenge and possible cooperative spirit; at worst it panders to narcissistic instincts and limited visions of social and personal reality! Schools are not community theatres.

There are many community organisations that can provide the cultural ego based experiences for talented yet uncritical young people with little interest in viewing theatre as cultural challenge and even necessity! It is not up to the education system and schools to be ego pampering vehicles for the non-discerning!

A Concoction of Pretty Gargoyles

But the American musical form can provide a safe retreat for staff and students creating occasional performing arts works in schools. Having rows of doll-like and very talented girls and some boys smiling for the benefit of their audience is very reassuring that our conservative values of European and American origin are well and truly being adhered to. The beguiling exaggerated smile with a welcoming and slave-like facial expression to placate the audience's control and demand over the performer is part and partial of so many musicals. By their very nature, the performer is made subservient to the world-view of the establishment. It follows in the tradition of the artist paying tribute to the upholders of the state with the high ticket pricing to weed out the lower income classes. The musical can simply be a concoction of pretty gargoyles smiling hideously for the gratification of the powers-that-be. It is purposed with making somnambulistic audiences "feel good".

Certainly NOT all musicals follow this pattern. Schools with varied programs mixing musicals with plays and other performance style offerings can legitimately claim to be proffering high educational values with the musical vehicle for enhancing cooperation and even a lens through which to see the world.

I am proud to be producing such works with very talented and committed teachers with DTC!

The Greeks and the Sacrifice

The ancient Greeks offered up a theatre in communion with cultural expression, a kind of spiritual adherence in recognition of that invisible connection with aspects of the universe that cannot be easily explained; those events in human experience that sought explanation beyond the observable world yet seemed to have a hold over all humanity! While virtually all traditional societies had and still have the physical means to express the hidden inclinations and human/social gravitations, the Greeks paved the way for a secular theatre that touched on the spiritual; what the late Peter Brook called "theatre of the invisible made visible"! At some point the religious significance of "sacrifice" can transform theatre.

"Sacrifice is a celebration of life, a recognition of its divine and imperishable nature. In the sacrifice the consecrated life of an offering is liberated as a sacred potency that establishes a bond between the sacrificer and the sacred power." (https://www.britannica.com/topic/sacrifice-religion, Accessed 04/07/2022)

While the separation of theatre from religious ceremony might seem a natural outcome of secular progress there is a downside in that the techniques are very similar to advertising and marketing processes. The removal of the actor from that of buffoon or prostitute also might seem a progressive act. Yet perhaps, the equation of the performer/writer/theatre practitioner with the "All Licensed Fool" might provide a better discussion. The All Licensed Fool of Elizabethan times was a speaker of truth when speaking the truth was otherwise likely to get you decapitated! The very techniques of presentation that derived from the ancient world and traditional societies have been trivialised and appropriated in the crassest demonstration of American theatrical tradition that barters sex, base instinct and consumerist abstraction for a fabricated artistic form that panders to lowest common denominator tastes and inklings; while in denial of both!

If we must appropriate from the ancients and the traditional means of theatrical presentation, we might adopt the idea of the artist as a kind of fool or Shaman. The audience then is that of seekers of truths and possibilities and not simply as seekers of distraction and evasion. They are more than narcissists in need of justification or affirmation of their cultural and social beliefs and certainties. They are in fact part of a spiritual tradition that questions the possibilities and the seemingly obvious. I suggest a theatre that respects its audience as having these qualities is more likely to engender a strong artistic and even spiritual sense within its own cohort and thus reinforce possibilities for cultural examination and personally deep explorations.

Such work requires more than professional competence. Rather it requires an acknowledgement of one's fears and a willingness to step up and be vulnerable as teachers, artists and as citizens. The real women of Troy at the end of that mythic war still exist today. They are still the silenced voices of people defeated by the ignorance, violence and short memories of perpetrators and descendents. As practitioners of theatre, our ego and natural neurosis needs to be held in check so that an open attitude of venturing and investigation can flourish and, like that pebble in the puddle, create ripples of cultural respect and introspection; creating and flourishing in a cluttered fluorescent forest of our own making ...

Joe Woodward

(13 Aug 2022)

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and have a look at the DTC movie: UNDER THE LIGHT

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