The chronicle of moments of connection
By Jonothan Neelands
This tricky, risky moment from ISTA Connect in Phnom Penh is my iconic moment of connection: between cultures; between artists, teachers and students; between differently abled creatives and generations. Creating unique ensembles, who together produce sensitive, thought provoking expressions of our human diversity and values. Often beautiful, each Connect production is unique to its place and people. Difference becomes a strength and a cause of celebration and new insights rather than something to be feared and avoided. This is what ISTA Connect is all about and why I’m proud to be patron.
There are other images and memories. Students in the slums of Manilla bringing joy and playfulness to children at risk of exploitation – not just as a single moment of connection but as part of a long-term commitment from privileged students to give back to their local society and to serve those most in need. Students hosting a theatre-led conference on modern slavery and trafficking in the open spaces of the National Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta, co-creating with and being challenged by young people and leaders from youthSpark and inspired by the hope that change will come for young African Americans at risk, just as it did for those who sacrificed everything for civil rights – to make change happen.
Connect is all about the power of empathy. Working together as artists, listening to each other’s stories and experiences, enriching the work with new forms, new perspectives, disrupting the divides between us. Fostering in ISTA students a lifelong commitment to empathy – a commitment to understanding others and seeing the world from their perspective. Theatre breeds empathy. We become part of each other’s story, we feel and remember what it is like to live lives less privileged. ISTA is not about breeding sympathy – mere hugs are not enough. It is about a movement for social and artistic change. Developing an instinct, a habit, in ISTA students that they will carry with them into future lives.