ISTA 2020


From February 6th-9th, FIS hosted an ISTA festival, marking the 30th anniversary of FIS participation in ISTA. ISTA stands for the International School Theater Association and is an organization which has been organizing theater festivals all around the world since 1978. With over 40 years of experience, ISTA has been able to create a variety of different performances with students all over the world and organize festivals that leave lasting impacts on both the participants and the audience. ISTA hosts about 60 festivals every year in schools all over the world for Primary, Middle and High school. This year there were nine schools participating in this year’s festival and over ninety students total. The theme for this year’s ISTA festival was “In The Telling”. It revolved around the telling of different stories and how different styles like song, dance and movement could be used to do so. The whole event was organized by ISTA representative, Daphne S. and FIS’s own theater teachers: Mr. Sarstedt and Mr. Gregg.   

The ISTA artists challenged the students to create different performances with their respective ensemble leaders. There were five artists invited to teach the core ISTA workshops;

Matt B. is a composer and musical director based in the United Kingdom. His workshop was based around looking at how one could use voice, singing, rhythm and instruments to create a performance. The next workshop was led by Jane C., the director of Beyond Repair Dance Company. Her workshop was dance-related and focused on how stories could be told through dance and movement. There was also Vicky C., a teacher director with a passion for collaborative and ensemble theater. Vicky’s starting point for her ensemble was telling different stories through objects and what ordinary things mean to different people. The fourth workshop was Jacques de S.’s. Jacques is an award-winning performer, theater maker and teacher. He focused on using the body primarily to create different shapes and sounds to tell a story. The final workshop was Mike P.’s. Mike is an ensemble leader/teacher from the International School of Geneva. His ensemble was taught about the theater tradition “Commedia dell’Arte” and how to create a true Commedia performance. 

To get inspiration for their performances, the students took an afternoon trip to the Saalburg, an old Roman fort in Königstein. Since the festival was inspired by the Romans, the students were invited to explore the fort and the forest behind it to brainstorm ideas for their performance. A series of group activities and singing was also led by the ensemble leaders. The students enjoyed the fresh air and the fascinating history of the fort and Roman history in general. 

The participants were also involved in group Ceilidh dancing one night after dinner. The group Ceilidh was a fun and active way to relax and laugh while also learning about a famous dance tradition. The FIS Irish Dance team even gave a special performance at the end of the night which left the students in awe. 

The final performance was a culmination of all the ensembles’. It started with Debbie K.’s, the artistic director, piece on what stories and books mean to us. The participants went around the space with their palms open and pretending to read a book. One by one they would sit down and some people would be still standing. Those people would talk about a book that meant a lot to them and how they felt when they read it. Then the ensembles all followed with their performances. The performance ended with all the participants singing a song Matt gave them to learn, which was about the importance of stories to individuals and communities. The FIS students invited their friends, family and even some of the teachers came to watch. 

We both participated in the festival, as an actor and as a crew member, and have asked other participants from FIS, other schools and the crew members some questions about their experience with ISTA 2020 and how it has impacted them. Here is what they had to say:


Interview from FIS ISTA participants:


How many festivals have you partaken in prior?

P1: This is my first ISTA

P2: 1 in middle School and 1 in High School


How did you feel being in such a large group of students? 

P1: I’ve been a part of productions before so I felt like I was in my place even though I didn’t fully know what was going to happen.

P2: I felt happy and exhausted because we mostly all had the same passion and goal.


In your opinion, what was the most fun/interesting part of the workshops? 

P1: Besides the Irish dance night which I feel everyone enjoyed, the individual workshops were very interesting with many fun moments, one moment I still remember is when we were having a break and all of a sudden the ensemble started singing and playing Stay by Rihanna.

P2: Most fun was creating slow motion fight scenes in our ensemble


What have the workshops and ensemble leaders taught you that you will use in the future? 

P1: He definitely taught me the importance of instruments in a theater piece, I knew they could be used but the workshop really made me understand the importance behind it.

P2: Yes, a cool walk that has an amazing dramatic effect.


Were you pleased with the final performance? 

P1: I was very pleased, besides a minor mis-step, it went smoothly and everyone did very well.

P2: Somewhat… I think if we would have all wanted the same goal and concentrated it would have been much better! 


Would you recommend doing this festival? If so, why?      

P1: If you want to have a perfect understanding of what drama and the performing arts have, then I definitely think it’s a good experience to have since it teaches you some cooperation skills and to think creatively

P2: Yes definitely! It is a great way to learn among like minded people and have fun!


Interview from other ISTA participants:


How many festivals have you partaken in prior?    

P1: So, I have done a total of 4 festivals all the way from Middle School to High School now.

P2: None, this was the first.


First impressions of FIS and the students?     

P1: My first impression of FIS was really the friendliness of the students and how vibrant the community really is. The facilities are top-notch as well. 

P2: Great atmosphere and everyone was happily involved in the activities.


Most interesting/fun part of the festival?   

P1: For me, getting to learn all about different styles of theatre, like physical theatre was equally fun and interesting. Being able to have industry professionals guiding you throughout is an incredible experience each time.


Were you pleased with the final performance? 

P1: I was incredibly pleased with the final performance. Very cohesive, funny and inspiring. I still watch it to this day!

P2: Yes, totally. Everybody did a great job with their ensemble and all together it was amazing. 


Anything that the workshops and ensemble leaders have taught you that you will use in the future? 

P1: The whole experience with ensemble leaders was incredible and benefits me after each year. It’s inspiring to see such growth in everyone and the workshops and ensembles definitely play a part.

P2: How to cooperate and [the] creative process of creating a musical.


Interviews from the ISTA crew members:


Was this your first time working as a helper for an ISTA festival?  

Crew Leader (CL): Yes, this was my first time being involved in an ISTA festival in any capacity.

Crew Member (CM): Yes, it was.


What are some of the challenges you faced during the festival? 

CL: The main challenge I faced was managing the team of helpers because we would often go from non-stop action to hours of downtime and then right back into non-stop action. This made it difficult to make sure that everyone was constantly ready to be on hand and do whatever was needed from them.

CM: As a more senior position, in terms of grade, it was really difficult to manage the entire crew and get them to listen and be able to keep track of everyone at all times.


Was this good a useful experience? Why or why not?  

CL: This was a very useful experience for me because I was able to understand what goes into creating a successful festival every step of the way, from managing arrivals and departures to setting up school spaces, to providing materials. I also really enjoyed being able to lead a team of motivated helpers as it allowed me to develop my leadership and communication skills. It was also just a really fun experience to be a part of overall. 

CM: I believe it was a really good experience as it showed me not only what an ISTA festival is, but also everything behind the scenes and how much effort is being given by literally everybody involved…it’s also really useful as it builds trust between the crew and also between you and the teachers and it’s a relationship that is always nice to have; always nice to go to teachers and have a good laugh with them, or be assigned a job to do.


What do you think is important for an ISTA crew member to do/know?     

CL: I think the most important thing to know is that if you are working as a crew member then you need to be constantly prepared for any odd request. For example, you may have been running back and forth from room to room for two hours and have just sat down for the first time when you are given another major task. You have to be able to immediately jump back up and do what needs to get done to keep things running smoothly. It may be something as simple as showing someone to the bathroom or as complicated as sorting 100+ gift bags by the school and student. As long as you can be open-minded and work efficiently, you should be more than fine.

CM: To be a successful ISTA crew member, one really needs to be attentive of everything that’s going and be organized because you might be faced with 7 different tasks and it could get difficult to keep track of them all…it’s also really important to know when you’re not needed so as to no impeded on any of the workshops going on.


This year’s ISTA festival has been a very big one and a very interesting one for the participants. Learning a bit about the historical sites of Germany and getting the chance to create an original performance that pushes them out of their comfort zone and lets them broaden their artistic abilities with trained and brilliant ensemble leaders. The students of FIS have made long-lasting bonds and connections with the students from the other schools and hope to see them again at future ISTA festivals.