Backstage students showcase features future talent
Monday, 12 July 2021
backstage‘From day one, students are fully immersed in the industry’
UK - Final year students at Wakefield’s Backstage Academy, the versatile skillset learnt studying over the pandemic has strengthened their resilience and eagerness to reinvigorate the sector. The experience of adapting through adversity has set them up for the best chance of success upon entering the industry; driven to cater to the UK’s pent-up demand for live events post-pandemic, says the academy.
Offering degrees, short courses and bespoke training in live events, the South-Kirby-based institution held an end of year showcase of student talent last week. The campus’ Final Major Project Series saw the culmination of third year students honing their skillsets and the coming together of the craft they learnt over the pandemic and three years of study.
For Backstage Academy’s Live Events Production course leader, Johnny Goodwin, this year’s projects are significant - not just because they serve as a capstone contribution to the students’ third year final grade - but because the 2021 themes address the feasibility of the industry’s survival post-COVID. The showcase is a demonstration of the skills the industry’s newest tranche of practitioners will need upon entering the industry (such as live streaming) in hastening its bounce-back to pre-pandemic levels.
Johnny said: “You could say there is something primal in the coming together of people to enjoy culture through a shared experience – whether that’s at gigs or in theatres. These final year projects from our Backstage students have really brought that to the fore, demonstrating not just the skills learnt, but more significantly, the importance shared experiences have on the human condition.
“From day one, our students are fully immersed in the industry, working with some of the sector’s biggest names, using best-in-class equipment, in state-of-the-art studio spaces, and working closely with practitioners whose day job it is to create the most breath-taking live experiences.
“Our students’ final major projects are undoubtedly big, ambitious productions this year. They serve to push the students’ skillset to the next level – putting into practice everything they’ve learnt along the way with us.”
Taking part in the Final Major Project series were Ross Wickison (Live Events Production) and Tara Nesbitt (Stage & Production Management) third year Backstage Academy students.
Ross and Tara explained the detail behind the Final Year Projects they worked on. “The Live Again project was a theatrical performance telling the story of live events - from before, during and hopefully post-COVID - through actors and musical performances, bringing together lighting, visual and sound design and effects to narrate each performance.
“We held the show in Studio One – Production Park’s biggest studio – with a 40x40m footprint and 16m high roof, which has the ability to hang 110 tonnes of gear from it. It’s been excellent to have an opportunity to work creatively with a huge space like that, one which is usually a commercial facility used by the likes of Kylie, Robbie and Muse.
“The event starts off with a live music set-up, in a Hootenanny-style with a live MC, but gradually becomes a pastiche on the impact the pandemic has had on the live events industry; with the MC becoming a central character/protagonist. You see her world presenting a major music event upturned, to her being stuck in her room crossing off future dates and looking at how she coped with the turmoil.”
The performance was led by Nathan Curry (theatre director), Sara Templeman – (MC/protagonist), Tangled Feet Theatre Company, with support from actors (Simon Jones and Carla Garratt) and aerialist (Jessica Andrade).
“We utilised a huge amount of tech - from LED walls, lighting, line arrays and 3D sound - but also some automation, using computer controlled electric hoists. We even created a cuboid structure with a hologauze projection, which drops out of the main rig, and flies over the MC, representing her confinement during Covid.
“For a group of final year students, we’ve been really ambitious in producing an arena-sized show like this. In total, we had 128 fixtures, 3km of power cabling and 1km of data – these are the sort of numbers you wouldn’t even see on an arena-sized show! For us, it was a big learning curve and amazing opportunity; and one that makes you realise how much goes into a show of this scale and size.
“We all had our roles within the production - across technical and broadcast teams – but we also worked closely with Tangled Feet; who served as the show directors and assisted in the story-making whilst also giving us more experience working with a client.
“Although we were planning and designing the event, we needed the content element from the talent, and it’s been great to have Tangled Feet as an amazing partner. From a technical perspective, it truly was a spectacular show, but it was intertwined with a poignant message of the importance of live events.”
Head of Backstage Academy, Rachel Nicholson, commented, “Undoubtedly, the past 18 months have been incredibly difficult for us all, but particularly so for the live events industry. It is unsurprising then that the impact of the pandemic on the industry is prominent in the minds of graduating students and has become a recurrent theme for their projects this year. Despite the challenging circumstances, the students have truly demonstrated their capability and adaptability through their projects, drawing on the technical proficiency they’ve learnt with us over the past three years in order to achieve their ambitious goals.
“We’ve always been very hands-on as an institution, giving students industry leading products to work on - through the support of our industry partners - but it’s been great to see their training really come to fruition and put those skills into practice.”
Miles Marsden, Backstage’s industry partnerships director added, “We have about two-dozen industry partners at Backstage, without whom we wouldn’t be able to train up and invigorate the next generation of industry practitioners.
“Their support is vital – but they really rose to the occasion this year, giving our students access to the world’s most cutting-edge tech despite the difficulties faced by the industry.”

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