5 things I would like to see with ISTA in 5 years

2 August 2018

In 2017, our tri-annual publication Scene turned 15 and to mark the occasion (in the 55th issue) we had contributions from students, teachers, artists, staff, heads of school and many more who shared with us some of ISTA’s ‘best bits.’

We’re delighted to bring you a snapshot of these stories – here’s five things different people from the wonderful ISTA community would like to see happen with ISTA in the next five years.

Keriann O’Rourke
Five years can seem like a relatively short time in the grand scheme of how quickly our world moves and changes on a daily basis. ISTA will take on many new forms in that small section of history. My vision for where I would love to see ISTA by the end of that goal period is one that is preparing students and teachers for a future that is open, honest and collaborative while challenging ourselves and the ISTA community to adapt and change throughout.

Grow. Firstly, I would love to see ISTA expand itself to new and exciting countries where we haven’t yet been introduced. To watch the ripple effect of how the love of ISTA moves and flows over to different locations as teachers take on new teaching roles and experiences in different countries. With the fast pace of how knowledge is shared, ISTA will be popping up in new locales and generating a unique experience in even more places worldwide.

Share. Collaboration is a key element for the growth of each individual member and our whole ISTA community. I envision the true meaning of “Share ISTA” where members are sharing ideas regularly, meeting up online for collaborative discussions, and creating online spaces for collaborative work to exist across the globe.

Connect. Our alumni is vast as it stands today. Students, teachers and artists who have experienced an ISTA event will re-connect and meet together to reminisce and share their experiences. I hope to learn throughout the next five years about how so many people’s ISTA experience today, shapes who they are in the future.

Give. I see the development of the ISTA Connect festival programme establishing itself in more and more communities in need throughout the world. To use theatre to explore, connect and break down the divides between people is an area of ISTA where together we can truly make a difference.

Explore. As we grow and develop, I see ISTA continuously exploring new ways of doing, developing skills for examining exciting and challenging theatre practices and learning from a diverse repertoire of world theatre traditions. I see an evolution of our ISTA community through exploration of new programming, searching for new ideas, and seeking new ways to express ourselves to the world.

Mike West
There are some places where I think it would be wonderful if an ISTA festival could happen there. We have to completely pass by with a smile any sort of logistical or permission problems. No thoughts of finding food or accommodation or trying to convince administrators that 100 young and enthusiastic children would be fine climbing all over their site – “It would be an addition!” Some spaces resonate because of the history they have seen and some just because of the power of their design. These spaces just have a something about them and it would be wonderful to see our students tap into that. How about Ellis Island? Think of the stories and all of the emotions that have happened there. All the people who passed through with feelings of hope and anticipation but also maybe regret and sadness for things left. Hope, fear, looking forward, looking back, stepping into the unknown … too many starting points to choose from. What about Pompeii? Again, more stories and evocative atmosphere. Those who died weren’t taken by surprise. Many people died having already left the city but they returned to collect valuables and got caught in the ash. There is also the contrast between the everyday life of the city and what we now know as a great tragedy during the eruption. And then the fact that it all lay hidden for centuries. So many possibilities for theatre. Can you imagine groups of students creating pieces in the host of possible sites they would find in these two places?

How about any of Europe’s great cathedrals? Some are the most amazing spaces and again are so full of stories and have incredible sound qualities. And not just the ancient, medieval buildings. Coventry cathedral, completed in 1962 is one of the most atmospheric spaces I have ever visited. There is just something about it that touches. The very space itself has the power to move without the overlay of our stories. I wonder what theatre students could create there.

How about ISTA at the Globe? Now there is a thought and it could, maybe, be something that is not in the realms of the fanciful. I was lucky enough to be taken on the stage during a guided tour – something which often doesn’t happen. It is a powerful spot. All the theatre focuses there. I’m sure our students could come up with some wonderful theatre exploring the possibilities offered by using the balconies, the pit and the stage. Mouth-watering. Ephesus, too, the only one of my five I have never visited would be a wonderful venue to explore sound, chorus, and movement. Students always rave about the festivals they attend but can you imagine the effect of exploration and of the creation of theatre in such places? It would be a truly unforgettable experience.

Tom Scott
For me ISTA is a community and one I am hugely proud and honoured to be a part of. Day to day it’s easy to forget how important the work we do is. I don’t mean that negatively, far from it, and it isn’t just a job for me, but it’s always so amazing when you see on the ground the impact ISTA has and I remind myself of this as often as I can.

My journey with ISTA didn’t start that long ago, I wasn’t a former ISTA student, a drama teacher or had I ever heard of it. I stumbled across it by chance and with several stars aligning perfectly – and for that I am truly grateful. For me the next five years needs to cherish this sense of community, from engaging with people from all backgrounds and utilising skills to ensure we keep voyaging forward and steering the ship in the right direction.

ISTA has kept the same values and goals since it began and this is truly unique. How many companies can say that what they do has worked pretty much the same way for over 30 years? Reading this back to myself sounds strange and almost archaic but actually why wouldn’t we stick to what we know works? While I appreciate the need for us to change and develop – keeping the core principles by which we all stand is in essence the reason why it has been so successful. Every year ISTA will introduce something new, change its stripes slightly or discover and develop a new initiative or stream of work; after all, with the global climate this is the only way to ensure our longevity and protect what we do. However, we must always remember our roots and develop our work with these in mind.

Something I hold very dear to my heart is how diverse we are and how it isn’t necessary for us to scream and shout about it. It’s just the norm. The world today doesn’t have enough love, period. But we can change that. No matter how small we think our impact might be, it only takes us to galvanise the minds of a few people to impact the world. We could be teaching and inspiring the next world leaders, musicians, actors, teachers, parents… the list goes on. How humbling to think that we have the great honour of instilling these values. Showing young people and adults the importance of love, kindness and compassion for all people regardless of their beliefs, backgrounds, genders, sexuality and physical or mental capabilities. So many organisations feel the need to publically promote the work they do to encourage and support equality and diversity in the workplace but we don’t. It’s one of the things I’m proud to say is the norm. I recall a great speech by Carl Sagan (American astronomer) which I will include at the end of this text which I think sums up perfectly the place the world needs to get to. Fortunately for us, we are already there.

So that’s my thoughts. ISTA is a story that keeps creating new exciting leaves and a story people read with great wonder and interest. My hope and belief is that it’s a story people will continue to tell for many years to come…
It is and continues to be a great pleasure…

Randy Moss
I love watching bamboo trees. With the slightest wind they will sway gently and in the wildest storm they will whip, bend and adapt. But as I watch their graceful movement or their occasional violent dance in the wind, I am always comforted by their ability to recover and to remain strong. As I watch, I am reminded that the bamboo’s beauty is found not only in the amazing flexibility of its trunk and branches but in the strength and steadfastness of its roots. This is also how I have viewed ISTA over the last quarter of a century I have been associated with the organisation and am sure what we can expect in the years to come.

I have watched ISTA adapt from a small team of artists bringing Western Theatre ideas to a few select international students and teachers to a network of students, teachers and artists bringing, sharing, teaching and celebrating world theatre traditions across the globe. I have been around to watch ISTA sway from a single festival format to offering diverse opportunities based on age groups, social issues, location, technical skills, curriculum, theatre traditions and in many cases the needs of an individual community. I have watched ISTA sway gently in the breeze and watched it adapt to strong global storms but with all the growing, adapting, service and change I know and celebrate the roots that have allowed our strength.

I attended my first ISTA event in 1994. At that event, my students were placed in ensembles. Not groups, not teams, but ensembles. At 100s of classrooms, festivals, TaPS, AIRs, master classes and meetings since that first event I have been part of ensembles, lead ensembles and have even tried teaching ensemble. But mostly I have learned how being an ensemble is the roots to the ISTA mission, vision and events. For 25 years, I have seen students, teachers, staff members, host and visiting schools, the ISTA board and staff contribute their personal best to work together to create an organisation that is stronger than its individual parts. I have seen the organisation come together to teach, learn, explore, share and present theatre as a means to celebrate the diverse cultures, individuals, traditions and always the human conditions that define our global community. In all the changes of wind over the years, the outward sways and dances of ISTA have altered but thankfully the roots have remained strong and intact.

I do not know how the winds will blow in 5 years but I am confident that as long as we as the ISTA ensemble continue to take care of our roots we will continue to grow, celebrate, learn, create worlds though theatre and be beautiful.

Emily Ross
First and foremost, I would like to see ISTA continue the incredible work already being done providing collaborative educational experiences for both students and educators around the globe. The festivals, TaPS and professional development offerings are of the highest caliber and receive glowing feedback year over year. So kudos and keep up the great work.

Although there are many potential areas for ISTA to explore, I would like to write about only one area that I would like to see ISTA expand upon most which is near and dear to my heart: the service learning arena. The ISTA Connect festivals, just coming out of the pilot phase, seem to have had a really powerful impact on all involved: participants, facilitators, service learning partner groups, and host and participating schools. With the goal of connecting diverse groups of young people through a theatre education experience by participating in service learning activities, the emphasis is on mutual learning, collaboration and creation and has the benefit of spreading the ISTA ethos and offerings to disadvantaged local communities.

Students at international schools – often set apart from the communities where they are located – are able to “burst the bubble”, or connect and engage with local residents and their cultures in a truly meaningful way. Participants gain a broader view of the world and their place in it through the connections made during the festival. By collaborating with local communities, students become aware of different issues and challenges faced by other children and can reflect on their roles as global citizens.

With the expansion of this programme and the creation of similar ones, schools will have the chance to not only broaden and deepen the positive outcomes for their students and the service learning partner groups, but also to foster long term relationships – and therefore long term impact as well – with groups outside the schools in their local communities. The programme provides a wonderful opportunity for students and educators alike to participate in an applied arts service experience. With so many different challenges facing so many people in the world today, there are endless possibilities for engaging students in important, relevant, and purposeful activities that promote social justice, compassion, international-mindedness and resonate with the ISTA mission.

This article was first published in Scene which we publish three times a year and send to all our members. You can find out more about becoming an ISTA member here.