About ISTA’s event review of festivals

10 January 2020

A huge part of ISTA’s overall programme is made up of festivals for young people at primary school, middle school and high school level. These events are usually three days in length and involve participating young people from a range of schools coming together in ensemble groups led by artists to creatively explore a framing question. These festivals are guided by ISTA’s pedagogy which places learning, exploration and collaboration at the heart of the creative process.

The overall model for delivering an ISTA festival was last reviewed in 2005 and since this time we recognise there has been a number of significant developments in the dialogue surrounding creative learning and participatory theatre.

It is our aim to respond to these innovations and undergo a process of evaluation and review of our festivals in order to make sure we are delivering a model of best practice for the young people we work with.

Following the current review, ISTA will then commit to regularly reviewing each of our events; ensuring we are always offering the most impactful and relevant experience to our young people.

Rationale for change
ISTA is committed to providing best practice at all our events. As such we have a responsibility to regularly review our events to ensure that their content remains relevant; incorporating the latest in arts and educational research; and that events are consistent with current international artistic and educational models as well as our mission and values.

The organisation is currently undergoing an event review which will begin with festivals. This review will consider the following:
– Feedback from teachers about the festival experience (surveys, face to face conversations, interviews and feedback from a team of invited member teachers).
– Input from members of our community including trustees, senior consultants and staff.
– Feedback from students.
– Research into current educational theatre practice.
– Experiences gained from piloting and trialling new ideas in practice.

Our new global challenges
This year we introduced the concept of our festival international global challenge (IGC). This is where we identify a significant current global challenge each year which will become the focus for all festivals in that year. The IGC must be a significant global challenge and one to be examined through theatre by young people from around the world. The IGC will become the overarching starting point for all ISTA festivals so that over a particular year all students attending an ISTA festival engage in different ways with one major umbrella area of focus. Each host will then select its own unique area of inquiry coming out of the IGC, which will be specific to the school, its community and location. The aspiration is for all festivals in any one year to be interconnected and for all students around the world for that year to experience using theatre to examine the same global challenge together.

Feedback on our IGCs
– ‘We need this more than ever.’
– ‘Overwhelmingly positive feedback and support for an annual IGC.’
– ‘A unifying global experience for ISTA participants.’
– ‘Clear potential for sharing resources and ideas which will allow everyone to dig deeper into the issues.’
– ‘Great opportunity for buy-in/collaboration from wider school colleagues in home schools where issues can be further embedded in the curriculum.’
– ‘The arts are vital for social change.’
– ‘A big motivator for students to be engaging in something real and meaningful.’
– ‘Huge educational potential beyond the event – a wealth of opportunities for follow-up projects and in-school cross-curriculum collaboration.’

Survey for teachers
This was carried out in the early stages of our review and contained questions/tasks on the following:
– Starting points.
– The three day devising model with two workshops.
– The final sharing/performance.
– The cultural experience (former out and about).
– International mindedness.

Pilot festivals
We have to date carried out six pilot festivals across all age ranges. These have been led by ISTA artist and AD Jess Thorpe, and our most recent pilots have been led by other ADs. The pilot festivals have explored:
– A pre-festival task.
– Engaging students with the starting point.
– The design of tasks for the cultural experience.
– Artist planning and delivery of ensembles – clarifying and crafting the ensemble journey.
– Adapting workshops to link with the starting point.
– Unpacking the starting point with teachers and exploring further opportunities back in schools.
– Full group work.
– The preparation and nature of the final sharing/performance.

We are currently evaluating all the data collected, including feedback on the pilot festivals. A full report will be written with recommendations for future festivals. This will then lead into an online training programme for all ISTA artists and ADs that will take place in June and July of this year, ahead of our 2020-2021 festival calendar.