ISTA – a little reflection

14 August 2017

By Joachim Matschoss

I discovered recently that I have been a part of ISTA for more than thirty years and as I look back I can only describe this journey as being part of a huge galaxy – I can see every star (every artist, every teacher, every student) when I look up, look around, even if I never will personally visit (meet them).  

It’s a universe of equality and dreams, sharing and passion. Like many I have encountered in all this time I stumbled into it. It was difficult for me to show myself wanting something badly as a boy because that meant to put myself into a position of a frightening vulnerability. I didn’t like to be open and so in school I clowned, pretended, created quite complicated scenarios, stories even to avoid at all costs to show something of myself.

Luckily for me growing up there was always the theatre, creeping unnoticed into my dreams, taking me hostage when I stared aimlessly out of the window during my schooldays, so bored by mindless repetition of things I didn’t want to know let alone remember, forced to remember and spit out again on the command of a white-haired man with oversized spectacles who was my teacher in the forming years.

If I failed to remember the white-haired man would hit me with a large ruler that was always within his reach but I wanted to dream, fly through the window, go on a holiday, and be a part of fantastic stories that took me beyond time into a thousand places all at once.

I grew up and over time the theatre taught me to come to terms with my inhibitions and insecurity, find ways to deal with them, allowed heavy tears to become visible, deal with frightening panic, and succumbed to joyous laughter.

In the mid-1980s I accompanied a teacher from a school where I taught physical education (part-time, only for a couple of hours) for a weekend to a place somewhere in England. If my memory doesn’t fail me it was Stratford upon Avon.  

I had no idea what was going on there. I was just there to look after the “boys” of the student-group. At one point as we made our way to the venue my colleague pointed out a woman walking ahead of us: “She’s in charge of ISTA.” I only half listened and my English wasn’t great at that time and I thought my colleague said in German “Isst er?” (meaning in English: “Is he eating?”) to me and I wondered why we couldn’t eat something…

That woman a few steps ahead of me was Pat Zich. We caught up and naturally I was told what “ISTA” was all about. A place where you could cooperate, collaborate with people who shared a passion, who stemmed from the same galaxy and could create, explore, dream, discover in a non-competitive environment. A place where you can express what you feel, how you feel – where you are safe.

I am not sure if I wanted to be a part of this galaxy there and then but having met one of its brightest stars a seed surely would’ve been planted and so the journey began, from city to city, country to country, continent to continent, meeting like-minded people, passionate people, caring people and as I look back typing away outside my window the day folds in Australia and night slowly arrives and I think about moments where I was privileged to encounter some of those that give meaning to the night-sky.

  • My first visit to the American School of Paris and the time I shared with Ted (Miltenberger), enjoying his warmth, sense of humour and generosity.
  • Times in the kitchen in Budapest with Alenka (Dorrell) and David (Shepherd), talking about everything theatre, yoga, life and listening to David playing guitar.
  • I was passing a fountain at the school where I was hosting a festival and around it a large group of excited young people sang a beautiful song (just created there and then) under the guidance of Matt Baker which was the start of many collaborations for Matt and me.
  • Meeting Darren (Scully) for the first time in Portugal and being inspired by the boundless energy and the fierce intelligence, two traits so many ISTA-people seem to have. Over the years Darren and I bump into each other somewhere on the globe and for three or four days the universe is in order and it is as if we never stopped our conversation even though we might have not “seen” each other for years.
  • Meeting Peter (Wilkins) somewhere in Europe, even though he lives just around the corner from where I am in Australia. I am always leaving invigorated from our conversations, inspired by his vast knowledge and peculiar theatrical taste.
  • Catching glimpses of the effortless brilliance people like Zara (Nunn), Jillian (Campana) or Moira (Arthurs).
  • Enjoying the honesty, warmth and humour of people like Ant (Cunningham), Ian (Pike), Ian (Johnston), Jez (Gregg) and dear Mike (Pasternak). Their boundless dedication to what is at the heart of all our being: the young person’s journey, is what drives me day-in and day-out.
  • The sadness of the passing of Pat, her son Rick, Alenka, Ted, Doug (Bishop). I am constantly reminded of what is important: to live in the moment, to ensure each moment matters.
  • The crazy madness of what happens when stars “collide” with the universe…Tim (Williams) nearly setting students on fire when fire-twirling, students crashing in trust exercises but laughing and continuing to trust and why wouldn’t you. An entire workshop staying blindfolded on the floor enjoying the silence. A myriad of songs written, a myriad of tableauxs, poems, movement sequences…laughter, sudden silence, tears… joy, utter joy under a clear nightsky where everyone will take the time to look up.

NOTE: apologies if I forgotten anyone… your star shines as brightly…