The chronicle of the Black Binder
By Annie McManners
If there is a word that represents everything that ISTA stands for, it’s ‘ensemble’. Pat Zich, the formidable founder of ISTA, wrote a series of drama lessons called Teaching Ensemble Theatre. This became the legendary Black Binder. In the early days, ISTA festival Reps lugged suitcases of t-shirts, handouts, books, badges and Black Binders that teachers could buy. We sat around scanning the handouts, loving the ingenuity of the festival t-shirts and fingering the knick-knacks. There was always a scrabble to get the Black Binder. Deals were made and orders sent to ISTA.
I bought a copy of Teaching Ensemble Theatre and marvelled at the clarity, simplicity and diversity of the book. Each lesson had a warm-up exercise, a focus, an activity and a discussion item. The beauty of it was that it could be used by anyone: a drama specialist with loads of experience or a complete beginner. Here it was, just waiting for you, laid out as a route map for you and your students to find that wonderful state of becoming an ensemble.
I had Humanities colleagues who wanted to do some drama with their classes and I would hand them the binder. They loved it. The instructions were so full, that they also contained the craft of the classroom. The power of sitting in a circle, frozen moments, a solo voice, a group chant, being active, being still. One colleague refused to return it and we had to send off for another copy.
After 30 years of ISTA membership, when I read about how ISTA has developed, I still remember the Black Binder and how Pat Zich led the way towards the huge contribution other ISTA staff and artists have made to developing drama and theatre for all ages across the world. ISTA’s latest publication Adventures in Theatre gives drama teachers the same inspiration to take their students on a wonderful journey as part of an ensemble.