Thespian Reflection – 5 Most Common Reasons Why Schools Did Not Get Distinction

SYF, short for Singapore Youth Festival, is a bi-annual event that provides students of Performing Arts the opportunity to perform before a panel of adjudicators, with the aim of securing recognition.


There are 3 levels of recognition;

  • Distinction,
  • Accomplishment,
  • Commendation.

One of the most common questions we get is ‘how can we (school) get a distinction for SYF?’

We reflected on our combined experience of 20 years of working in schools preparing for SYF towards more than 20 Distinction Awards, we learned that there are no silver bullet to distinction.

Having said that, we have identified a few common factors. These factors, may hinder or at the minimum, will slow down the progress of a Drama Club towards a Distinction Award.


When we are assigned to a school, the very first thing we, as trainers, will do is to have a feel of the club’s ‘spirit’ and understand the talent available in the club, especially when it comes to stage chemistry and the chemistry the students have with each other.

The stronger their bonds, the better. Trainers will be able to experiment with more challenging scripts that will really stretch their acting and ensemble skills.

The stronger their bonds, the better their attendance. Of course, there might be 1 or 2 who wished they weren’t there but that is pretty normal.

Other subfactors includes;
Commitment level- number of student actors that are willing to explore possibilities and putting on a costume, having make-up on their faces, playing a character,

X-Factor- that special boy or girl who has a unique stage presence, potentially could be a protagonist on stage, complemented by an antagonist. This X-factor, in many cases, can be unlocked with the right guidance or even the right play..


You can choose to write a script for your students, or even you can get your students to write a script for their own performance. However, not every script is suited for everyone.

You need the right script. SYF is like a jigsaw puzzle. A script is like a puzzle piece, if you get the right piece, everything will fall into place on its own. Strategically a script must fit like a glove on the student actors, the script must showcase student actors’ acting ability and ensemble chemistry which leads to the question below.

Do you fit the script onto the Student Actors? Or The Student Actors fit themselves onto the script?

To me, based on experience it should be the script should fit the strengths and abilities of the Student Actors. To showcase the student actor’s natural vulnerability on stage, then the process of character playing is much simpler as the student would probably understand the nuances of the character rather than fitting the student actor into the script, similar to squeezing blood from rocks.


Once you have the right script it’s time to rehearse, high frequency of rehearsal do help to build muscle memories and line retention in their memory on top of their respective school works and projects. 

Early preparation provides student actors the opportunity to understand their characters better. Understand every wants, desire and thought process of the role they take. While, we understand there are circumstances that cannot be prevented in a school setting, it is good to remember that Practise Brings Progress.

Through rehearsals, the students will go through the rigour of actor’s training to find the right chemistry between the words they say, their actions and reactions with other characters. Over the years, we have witnessed performance that did not achieve the right role playing objective and thus affecting the role playing scores.

If you want to score higher, the lines and the commitment of character portrayal must be convincing.


You got the chemistry, you got the right script and rehearsal is on the way, this is where the student actor’s stamina and commitment will come into play.

As theatre practitioners ourselves, we know that no role is too small for the stage to move the scene but student actors see otherwise.

‘Why am I here when I am not important?’ is a common thought that goes into a students’ head.

As students, they only see the main actor as a primary character while everyone else is secondary. This is where it is important to instill a support system in the club. And this points back to the first point we mentioned.

We noticed that a good club is when the teachers can step back and allow the seniors to lead the club in games and warm-ups. This helps to build chemistry and trust among the student actors and thus becomes a support pillar for each other especially when times get tougher as we draw closer to SYF performance.

This in turn builds a sense of ownership in the student actor, the willingness to contribute more and work as a team, a crucial component in building a sense of belonging and knowing someone got their backs.



To a club, an instructor or trainer is not just someone who instructs movement in the play, he/she must have a very clear end goal in mind and a person who conducts himself or herself in a way that encourages exploration, a model character to the students. He/She must have an eye for details.

Bring a drama trainer/instructors, we do more than just instruct. We carry the mantle of a mentor, a counsellor, and provide a listening ear to the students. From rapport comes trust.

When trust is established, we will be able to bring out the best in the student’s acting ability and work in role creation, ensemble and thus creating a piece of work that they could be proud of.

Do we stand a better chance at securing a Distinction Award if we fulfil all the 5 points above?

There is no guarantee because there are also other elements that none of us, not you, not us, have  control over.

However, the above 5 point really form the base of what it takes to do well in SYF. And most importantly, with the fulfillment of the 5 points above, your students will have a more enjoyable time in their drama lessons.

Post written by: Sugiman Rahmat


Edited by: Naquiah Ridzuan

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