ISTA Phnom Penh Festival 2018

ISTA Phnom Penh Theatre Festival

Ten Harrow Hong Kong Drama pupils attended the Phnom Penh International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA) Festival on 1st – 5th March.  ISTA festivals are always unique and transformative experiences, and an opportunity for our pupils to work alongside children from other countries and with world renowned theatre practitioners. During this festival, our pupils were fortunate enough to also work with local theatre companies. The overarching theme of the Phnom Penh festival was ‘Power: Past and Present’ with a focus on the Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia and the powerful message of the quote taken from an audio recording at the Tuoi Sieng Genocide Museum: ‘This is part of the memory of the world, now you are the keeper of the memory’.


Day One.

This was our travel day. After a short flight, which consisted of plenty of snacks and movie time, we arrived in Cambodia. In the early evening we checked into the Frangipani Living Arts Hotel where all of the schools attending the festival were staying. The evening kicked off with a delicious meal in a nearby restaurant and a quick walk around the local area as we started to get a feel for Phnom Penh. Excitement was building for the first official day of the festival, as we took an early night to prepare ourselves for the weekend ahead.


Day Two.

This was the first day of the festival and we visited our host school The International School of Phnom Penh and met the other pupils we would be working with. The pupils at the festival were from Dubai, India, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and local Cambodian schools. The theme of the festival was introduced and the emphasis was on the use of art to express emotion, and to respond to the past in order to change the future. We received a Khmer scarf on arrival at the school; this was a particularly significant gesture because the Khmer is a traditional piece of clothing from Cambodia history and was the one piece of colour allowed during the dark days of the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer is now a symbol of a people whose courage and dignity has allowed them to overcome the challenges they suffered. Today, as Cambodia begins rebuilding it’s society, the younger generation have claimed the scarf as a legacy and the spirit it embodies.  


The morning started with pupils mixing together with the other schools and working in ensemble groups to develop ideas for their final performance on Sunday. We then visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, the site of a former orchard and mass grave of victims of the Khmer Rouge – killed between 1975 and 1979. The visit to the Killing Fields was powerful for everyone and gave us all food for thought about the importance of humans working together to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated.


We returned to our host school in the afternoon and pupils worked in their ensemble groups to explore their initial responses to the Killing Fields. The festival artists used many forms of theatre to help pupils dramatise their emotions and start working towards a final performance that would symbolise not just Cambodia’s past, but the hope for its future- like ‘a phoenix rising from the ashes’, as one artist so beautifully phrased it.


In the evening pupils watched a performance by the Phare Cambodian Circus; this was breathtaking piece of theatre that inspired our pupils and opened their eyes to new theatrical genres.


Day Three

Day three started with all pupils working together to create the opening of their performance. This final performance was directed by Dinos Aristudou, an extremely influential international artist. The opening of the performance was an alluring physical representation of the pupils’ responses and incorporated the powerful symbol of the Khmer.


The pupils then experienced two workshops run by a range of artists. One workshop,entitled ‘From Peace to Conflict’, was run by Buntheoun, Lay Noth and Sakun Po from the Cambodian Theatre company, Epic Arts. The focus of this workshop was to use creative movement as a way to explore some of the conflicts that we face on a daily basis and how we can encourage understanding, respect and communication as positive resolutions. Other workshops included ‘Let’s go to the Circus’ with Hout Heang from Phare Cambodian Circus and ‘Story, Theatre and Hope’ with the renowned theatre practitioner Jonothan Neelands, which used a variety of participatory storytelling techniques to explore the ancient Khmer story of the Neang Kang Rei mountain.


In the evening we watched a performance by Epic Arts, a local theatre company that works with disabled and able bodied Cambodian artists. The performance was indeed, epic.


Day Four

Pupils spent the day working in their ensemble groups, and as a whole company, to create the final performance. The performance was then shown to an audience of local parents and pupils. Our pupils should be very proud of this piece. It used a wide variety of performance styles and was a deeply moving expression of Cambodia’s history and hopes for its future. One of the quotes used in the final performance was ‘We believe that through creativity we can expand our potential as human beings’. Our pupils did just that.


After the performance there was a huge surge of emotion as our pupils said goodbye to the new friends they had made and reflected on the power of their experiences. In the evening we said our final goodbye to the other schools over a fantastic feast of traditional Cambodian food at a local restaurant.


The entire festival was translated; everything from instructions, workshops, rehearsals and performances were in English, Khmer and sign language. The translation ensured that the festival was accessible to all involved and most importantly served to connect us as one community. The Khmer translators were talented local pupils and the sign translator was an artist from Epic Arts. Thanks to the translation, our pupils have made strong bonds with local Cambodian pupils and artists.


The weekend was intense, harrowing, creative, exciting and most of all inspiring for our pupils. Well done to every pupil involved. We were indeed transformed and moved and we now keep the memory of the festival, and of Cambodia and its people, within our hearts and minds.

ISTA High School Festival Hong Kong

Our students are coming to the end of a fantastic weekend at the ISTA High School Festival at Renaissance College. The weekend has been spent working with students from other countries and exploring word theatre traditions whilst learning new theatre skills. Our students have thrown themselves into the action and have had a brilliant time.


ISTA Shanghai- The Final Day

Yesterday we were all sad to leave SAS and Shanghai after a fun packed three days of theatre. The final festival day consisted of workshops and rehearsals in the morning leading to a sharing in front of an audience of over 100 people in the afternoon. The performance involved every people both on stage and behind the stage. An event for everyone to be proud of! We can’t wait for the next festival.

ISTA Festival Shanghai-Saturday, Day 2.

In the afternoon students took part in a series of workshops which ranged from musical improvisation, an introduction to Peking opera, set construction, clowning, physical theatre and commedia masks.

The workshops were a great opportunity to learn specialist skills and students had a chance work with different artists and other students outside core ensemble groups.

The fun didn’t stop when the sun went down. Students were thoroughly spoiled with a delicious dinner, served in an amazingly decorated dinning hall and followed by an incredible (and huge!) specially made cake. There was then popcorn as students settled in to watch the talent show. Some of our students were brave enough to perform.

ISTA Festival Out and About in Shanghai- Saturday

This morning our students have been out and about in Old Shanghai to find inspiration for their Drama. The students explored the city in their ensemble groups to discover what life is like for the locals of this amazing city. Students will now spend the afternoon developing their pieces of Drama around their experiences.

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Shanghai ISTA Festival – Friday 4th Nov

Our students had a lovely first night with their host families yesterday and our first full day of the Shanghai ISTA festival at SAS has been full of theatre fun! We have played theatre games, learnt new exercises and worked in our ensemble groups exploring the festival’s theme of ‘The City of Dreams’. Let’s not forget all of the delicious food we’ve eaten! We are all looking forward to exploring The Bund tomorrow and working with new artists in our workshops.

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ISTA Artist in Residence- October

Our Drama students enjoyed working with a visiting ISTA Artist in Residence this week. Fenella Kelly visited the school for three days, to run devising workshops with Drama students ranging from years 6-11. Our students played with different genres of theatre during these workshops and learnt to experiment with new devising techniques. On top of the workshops , all of Year 5 took part in a two hour Greek Theatre workshop with Fenella and produced some brilliant pieces of theatre.

On Monday evening Fenella ran a Katakahli workshop which included use of traditional costume and props. Kathakali evolved from early temple art forms in the 17th century, it is a highly charged, powerful drama that combines devotion, drama, dance and music to produce one of the most impressive forms of sacred theatre in the world.Our GCSE students really enjoyed the 90 minute workshop.
Our Year 11’s spent the day with Fenella on Tuesday in preparation for their upcoming practical exam. Year 11 learnt lots of new practical techniques and got their creative juices thoroughly flowing. Their devising work stemmed from various stimuli from ‘The Tempest’ to the modern play text ‘Black Out’.
Everyone who took part in Fenella’s workshops had a truly creative, enjoyable experience.

ISTA Festivals for 2016-2017

One of the most exciting things about the Drama Department is its membership of ISTA.

Following the success of the recent trip to Penang, we have signed up for 2 ISTA festivals next year, as follows:

  • A Middle School Festival at Shanghai American School, Pudong (3rd to 7th November 2016) – this will be open to Years 6 to 9 and is likely to cost in the region of HK$7500-8000 all-inclusive, depending on final flight costs.
  • A High School Festival at Renaissance College, Hong Kong (17th to 19th May 2017) – this will be open to Years 9 to 13 and is likely to cost in the region of HK$2500-3000 (non-residential).

These festivals will be of great interest and benefit to a wide range of our students: all that is required is an interest in Drama and/or other performing arts. The nature of the festivals, which include collaborative work, cultural exchange and a lot of fun, means that those who attend will learn a huge amount – attending such events is often an extremely powerful and transformative experience.

Even more exciting is the fact that this year we will also be taking some students to Shanghai who are particularly interested in the production side of theatre, whether this be stage design, lighting, sound or just a general interest in production support.

Please note that a letter for the festival in Shanghai will be sent out very early next term, once flight costs have been confirmed. The deadline for signing up for this festival is likely to be 5th September, so you will need to act quickly if you want to attend.

No doubt demand will be high after our students’ past experiences in Penang, Manila and Bangkok and after the success of the recent Prep School Production: don’t miss out!

ISTA Summer Academy

This is very exciting: the ISTA Performing Arts Academy in Shanghai are offering a Summer Academy, open to any student aged 11 to 18.


Unfortunately the first course clashes with our last week of term, but the second course falls in the first week of the holidays.

The ISTA Performing Arts Academy has this to say about these courses:

Veteran practitioner, former ISTA Vice President and IB Theatre Examiner and Trainer, Ms Fenella Kelly will lead 2 separate five day courses:

Course 1 starts Mon 27th June – Physical Theatre Approaches
Course 2 starts Mon 4th July – Bringing Text to Life

We have already enrolled students aged 11-18 from several international schools from Beijing and Shanghai and are ready to welcome students from all over Asia!
This promises to be a truly unforgettable learning experience – DON’T MISS OUT!

You can sign up for one course (RMB3800) or for both courses (RMB7200)
Find out more on our website now!

This would be a great way to start the Summer Holidays!

(Please note that this is not a school trip and so students will have to travel with a member of their family.)

ISTA Festival Penang: Day 3

The final day of the festival was an extremely busy one: each ensemble worked on putting the final touches to their performance for the afternoon’s public sharing, cycling in and out of the performance venue and taking the time to ensure that all students were clear as to their roles. Some new work was generated, but for the most part it was a case of developing and clarifying which pieces of the previous days’ work would be included in each ensemble’s showcase. The performances at these festivals are designed simply to give the audience a snapshot of some of the work that has been created and some of the ideas that have been explored during the festival as a whole.

The performance took place in the late afternoon, with many of the host families coming along to watch, along with the visiting teachers and members of the host school community. After that, it was time for farewells and one last evening in host families before we flew back the next day.

Some photos of the final sharing will be posted in due course, along with the students’ reflections on the festival experience. In the meantime, here are some images of work in progress.

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