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ISTA’s global Verbatim Theatre project: A Memoir of an Extraordinary Year

By Sally Robertson
ISTA’s global Verbatim Theatre project: A Memoir of an Extraordinary Year

When the pandemic began in 2020, the International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA) embarked on a new journey of re-imagining our live/face-to-face theatre experiences. Innovation became our daily mantra and as well as moving some of our core events onto a virtual platform we also began creating new theatre experiences for our international school students. One of those was our first-ever Digital Global Production A memoir of an extraordinary year focussing on the unique approach to Verbatim Theatre called the Hear Us Out technique.

The Hear Us Out technique was developed by ISTA artist Dinos Aristidou over a two-year period while working for New Writing South (UK) where real-life stories from LGBTQ+ people were developed, recorded, and performed. The idea was then created for ISTA to use this technique to create a global digital production in which the performance is constructed from the precise words spoken by the people interviewed—in this case ISTA students. 

Hear It Out – A memoir of an extraordinary year is set to become a key body of work within the international community using the experiences of young people throughout 2020, celebrating real life stories, creating a significant piece of oral history. By performing other people's stories from different parts of the world, this project has developed student’s ability to listen deeply, empathise, and connect with other young people around the world.  

The project began in January 2021 and we are now in the final stages of editing and curating the final digital production, which will be screened in September 2021.

We invited 10 schools to join us. Each school selected six theatre students, one music student, and one film student. Interestingly, part of our strategic work over the coming years is to broaden out from theatre to include ISTA experiences that are cross-arts. Another tick for the Verbatim box.

Schools involved are the Bavarian International School, Germany (Isabel Moraes); ESF King George V School, Hong Kong (Ian Baker); Institute Le Rosey, Switzerland (Laurie Carroll Bérubé); International School of Florence, Italy (Claire Angeletti); International School of Kenya, East Africa (Robin Wills); NearWest, People’s Republic of China (Mike Ludwick); Renaissance College, Hong Kong (Lou Houghton); St Julian’s School, Portugal (Zoe Weiner); Sturgis Charter Public School, East and West Campus, United States of America (Anna Botsford); Theatre in the Quarter (Chester), United Kingdom (Matt Baker and Julie Elston).

So that’s 10 schools, 9 countries, 4 continents, 80 students and 60 stories!

Our event coordinator, Helen Abbott, working closely with artistic director Dinos Aristidou, mapped out a series of four workshops, taking participants through the skills, understandings, and techniques. For each selected workshop focus, the teachers would first be introduced to the ideas; this was followed one week later by a practical, hands-on, interactive and collaborative workshop for the students.

The following topics were covered…

  • Project introduction and launch
  • Hear Us Out techniques
  • Performing Verbatim
  • Developing movement work from Verbatim stories

In between the workshops were periods of time designated to “create, devise and rehearse,” where students from the same school would work together on the various tasks set.

Each theatre student was asked to record a story reflecting on the extraordinary year. These stories were submitted to ISTA and then sent to a student in another part of the world. For example, a student in Hong Kong would have their story performed by a student in Kenya. In addition to the individual stories, schools were challenged to create and devise a collaborative movement piece, based on an element from one of the stories. Music students worked together to create theme tunes and underscoring, and film students also met to develop the skills necessary to capture the performed stories and movement pieces.

Having gleaned feedback from all participants to date, it is clear to one and all that the project has made a huge impact on the young people involved. It has enabled them to move out of their comfort zone and has had a personal resonance in allowing them to meaningfully reflect on a challenging year, often with humour.

The major take-away for the young people has been the opportunity to connect with like-minded peers from around the world. Friendships have been formed through conversation and collaboration. To make these connections with other young people who share a passion for theatre has been cited as a highlight of the year. Through this global connection, young people have also learned so much from listening to the thoughts and ideas of others.

The project has used theatre to explore all the different ways in which covid-19 has impacted our lives for the last year.

Teachers have seen their students engage in an authentic, meaningful process where real connections have been made. They have seen great care being taken to ensure the process was rich and rewarding and have appreciated the flexibility and tweaking that took place along the way to adapt to the changing circumstances and processes. To see one’s students involved in a creative, meaningful global project has been much needed at this time for our international theatre educators.

More information on the project can be found on our website and we are set to produce two global digital productions next year. For detailed information please email [email protected].

“This project enables our young people to speak out about what is happening in the world.”Claire Angeletti, International School of Florence, Italy 

“The project was really important for me personally to reflect on the past year and to find both the humour and sadness in the isolation of 2020.”Student participant

“The best thing was meeting and speaking to people in my age group all over the world. Especially after a year when we have been so isolated.”Student participant

“I loved working with people that I would otherwise never have worked with if covid hadn’t happened. Covid has affected the whole world but in so many different ways and being able to create theatre about the way it has affected the world together so that everyone can relate to it was great. What we did was really important.” Student participant

“Even though we are at school or at home, covid didn’t stop us from creating a beautiful piece of theatre.” Student participant

“This project allowed us to connect with other students in a way that we haven’t been able to for the past 15 months. The project has been really exciting for both students and the staff.” – Ian Baker, ESF King George V School, Hong Kong 

“What I loved about this project was the inclusivity of it. The project has put its arm around us as a school and around us as a group. It has allowed the students a creative voice at a time when it’s been difficult to get your creative voice out there. This is cutting edge and a project full of surprises that takes my students and myself on a creative journey. Even though we are in an online space.” – Claire Angeletti, International School of Florence, Italy 

“For both me and my students, it was an important opportunity to collaborate with students all over the world and to work with ISTA artists on something that was special and unique but also theirs because the stories came from them.” – Laurie Carroll Bérubé, Institute Le Rosey, Switzerland 

Sally Robertson
is Executive Director of the International Schools Theatre Association.

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06/22/2021 - Keriann
We are seriously excited about this project. We loved this write up and can't wait to see the final product in September - as well as kicking off the next two for the 2021-2022 season.

Thank you TIE for sharing this great collaboration between students, teachers and school communities!



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