At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking it was an episode of the reality television show Survivor. One hundred middle school students from five international schools – including 21 from the International School of Beijing (ISB) – ventured aboard long boats to Telunas Island, a rustic resort located in the Riau Islands of Indonesia, for the International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA) Festival from May 4 to 7, 2017.
However, everyone was a "winner" at this event that took dance and drama out of the theatre and into the wild.
Kenny D, a grade 8 student at ISB and two-time ISTA Festival participant, said the experience allowed new identities to emerge as he and his peers bonded over their passion for performance.
"The highlight was working with my ensemble and presenting our final performance. It felt so great to showcase everything we'd learned in one show," he said.
"I really like the experience of being able to do drama with people you've never met and may never meet again. The fact the location isn't a school setting, strictly speaking, also allows you to better focus on what you want to achieve."
Students were divided into five ensembles and mentored by theater artists from Vienna, the US, Turkey, Singapore, and the UK. Participants braved the elements of heat and humidity to devise performances around the theme "Message in a Bottle," utilizing various theater techniques such as puppetry, physical theater, dance, and storytelling.
The festival facilitated "ensemble thinking" beyond students' regular comfort zones, according to ISB's middle school dance and drama teacher, Hannah Northcott.
"As a drama teacher, I strive to provide opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of drama and themselves. ISTA enhances their level of collaboration; they work with students from different schools. Also, many develop the ability to work well and understand a director whom they aren't previously familiar with," she said.
Students had an extra day in Singapore where they shopped at Marina Bay Sands, interacted with digital art installations at the Art Science Museum, entertained unknowing tourists through street performances at the Helix Bridge, and admired nocturnal animals on a night safari.
Other insights from ISB students who participated in the ISTA Festival include:
"ISTA is one of my favorite things that I've done this year. It has helped me learn so much not only drama but collaborating with others as well. ISTA is indescribably amazing!" – Jacqueline L, grade 7.
"ISTA was an amazing experience that allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and become more confident in myself. I made a lot of new friends and grew closer with others at ISB . Overall, it was a great opportunity to work on collaboration and drama." – Katie C, grade 7.
"ISTA has been such an amazing experience that it cannot be described in words alone. The ISTA team has been very supportive and collaborated well with other schools throughout the trip. Not only have I improved as an actress, but I have become more confident in general." Sabrina L, grade 7.
"ISTA was an amazing drama festival and we were very fortunate to experience this. I really liked stepping out of my comfort zone and being away from my family. I felt that the ISTA team whom I was with was like my 'family.' I also really liked meeting new people, and now being friends with them." Keaton R, grade 7.