Being Different: The YCIS/YWIES Hybrid Drama festival

12 June 2022

Imagine this…

An international drama festival with 160 students from 5 different cities and artists from around the globe working together to explore what ‘being different’ means to them.

Sounds like the making of a classic ISTA theatre festival experience. But these are Covid times and things sometimes aren’t as straightforward as they can initially appear.

So here’s the Covid catch.

None of the schools located in the 5 different cities ever actually meet each other in person but still collaborate together as one and share throughout the event.


And the artists themselves were a mix of locally based artists who came into the schools to work in a face to face setting with students as well as a number of artists who “Zoomed in” for exhilarating theatre workshops.

As ISTA’s festival Event Manager Sophie Galton explained in her inspiration pack:

“This could be seen as 5 separate festivals, but it is incredibly important to see it as one event with 5 separate strands. Each ensemble will be unique and like all ISTA festivals, the journey the students go on is the most important part of the experience. I invite you all to embrace the challenge of the festival.”

This suddenly doesn’t look like your regular festival experience. It looks like an innovative and exciting exploration with a passion for theatre at its very heart.

Welcome to the YCIS/YWIES Hybrid Drama festival.

“It was wonderful to host students from other YCYW schools and to provide the opportunity for students to participate in a hybrid style festival. It was a real celebration of being back together to enjoy everything that we love about theatre. The opportunity to collaborate, create and perform was a wonderful experience for everyone involved.”

Renae Livermore, Performing Arts Teacher YCIS Shanghai Pudong

How did it work?

It took vision and perseverance to make this festival a success – and thankfully there was no shortage of it when ISTA’s Event Manager Sophie Galton and the YCIS/YWIES Festival coordinators Brandi Burtts, Allan Nazareno and Crystal Yip came together.

They organised a schedule that was bespoke to each locations’ learning needs. Schools attended the festival in 3 ways:

• Face to face with an artist in a school’s festival space

• Virtual with artist on-screen (students in their own festival space)

• Virtual with students at home

Who attended?

The festival was made up of an eclectic mix of Member and Non-Member schools from the Yew Chung/Yew Wah network of schools.

Take a look at the festival schedule and attendee list in the event programme below:

I just think the smiles said it all. It had been a long time since I had seen the students so happy. They were fully engaged from each campus and they felt so encouraged to express themselves the whole time, by each artist. No matter what picture I saw from different campuses, the smiles were all the same and it made all the organization 100% worth it!”

Brandi Burtts, Drama teacher and festival coordinator
Yew Chung International School Hong Kong

What did they explore?

The focus for the event followed ISTA’s 2021-2022 Global Challenge: Being Different.

They used the following as a starting point:

We all feel different for a whole variety of reasons. We can feel different as individuals or as a community. Sometimes differences make us feel unique and sometimes it makes us feel that we stand out. It can make us feel part of a community or it can make us feel excluded. This global challenge provides us with the opportunity to examine how difference is defined and identified as well as the social, political or historical reasons which lead to this. It allows us to explore both our own identities, biases and assumptions as well as how communities treat those that they consider different. It requires young people to consider inclusion, exclusion and what we mean by equity. It encourages them to be informed and active members of their communities and, where possible, to advocate for and bring about change.

At ISTA we celebrate both our differences and the things we have in common. We bring children and young people together from different places, backgrounds and cultures to learn and play through theatre. To engage young people with diversity, equity and inclusion is a significant and relevant focus for our times and we believe addressing, thinking and exploring these through theatre is both pressing and essential.

“It was such a genuinely happy experience that took me out of the hectic things happening in my life.”

Student at the Yew Chung International School Hong Kong

Final outcome?

This event was clearly one of those moments where passion and determination come together in the most magical way – and we couldn’t be more proud of the ISTA staff, festival teachers, coordinators and most importantly the students for embracing something new and exciting wholeheartedly as they did. If you can dream it – let’s make it happen!

“What I enjoyed most was all the different ideas and new games we played. And it was great to get to know others, and work with different people too. It was challenging and hard work, a lot of students were tired, but our coach Miss Annie explained the meaning and purpose of the whole festival which motivated us to keep going and create a great performance.”

Anya Ongwattanakul Year 7 student at the Yew Chung International School Shanghai Pudong