The chronicle of ISTA Connect
By Michael Westberg
Over the past 30+ years that I have been taking kids to, been on staff for, and hosted middle school festivals, the event has evolved over time to offer different models/formats including performance-based, workshop-based, theme-based, devising and Connect festivals. While the model has changed, the mission has remained the same: to provide a dynamic experience of theatre learning, collaborative practice, creative fun and to provide the opportunity for positive connections to be made between all of the participants.
I’d have to say that the ISTA Connect model is my favourite. The visits and interactions with the local community provide a purposeful and authentic focus that guide the entire artistic process. The out and about morning creates an opportunity for festival participants to be completely engaged and inspired by the experiences that take place. When the young artists return to the festival site they are energised and keen to explore and share the issues and themes that have surfaced during the excursions. I also feel that the artists return excited and inspired – full of concrete ideas to explore and develop during the ensemble sessions. I have observed that the CONNECTIONS allow the students to feel empowered to contribute and participate fully to the creative work throughout the weekend.
For me, one of the most exciting parts of the Connect model is watching the artists and students experience and participate in community service/outreach activities, then return to the festival site with a sense of purpose and energy that sets the artistic work on fire. I have observed that participants leave the festival transformed by the impact of the experiences they’ve had during the out and about activities. The authentic human connections made between all participants has led to creative discovery and touching performance pieces and that the festival demonstrates to all participants the positive and inspirational impact community service/outreach can have on creative dramatics and on the development of theatre with a positive purpose.