Ten Harrow Hong Kong Drama pupils had an eye-opening journey at the recent Phnom Penh International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA) Festival (1-5 March).
The event provided a wonderful opportunity for pupils to work alongside children from other countries, with world-renowned theatre practitioners and with local theatre companies.
‘Power: Past and Present’ was the festival’s overarching theme, with a focus on the Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia and the compelling message of a quote extracted 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’.
Pupils received a warm welcome with a Khmer scarf as soon as they arrived in Cambodia – a symbol of people whose courage and dignity has allowed them to overcome the challenges. They started off their first morning mixing in groups with pupils from other schools to brainstorm for their final performance on Sunday.
During the following day, the pupils worked on the opening performance together, and it was an alluring physical representation of the pupils’ responses and the powerful message of the Khmer. In addition to the fantastic performances, they took part in several of workshops including ‘From Peace to Conflict’, run by Buntheoun, Lay Noth and Sakun Po from the Cambodian Theatre company Epic Arts, 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.
During the trip, they also 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 was incredibly powerful for everyone to reflect on life. In the evening, our pupils were treated to a performance by the Phare Cambodian Circus, and it stunned them with the new theatrical genres.
When the last day of the trip came, the pupils worked in groups to create the final performance, showcased to an audience of local parents and pupils. With a quote: ‘We believe that through creativity we can expand our potential as human beings,’ the performance was a fitting farewell goodbye to this beautiful country.