Since 1984, the NSW Department of Education’s Schools Spectacular has been wowing crowds every year, showcasing the stunning talents of student performers from New South Wales Public Schools.

Last weekend saw the world-class arena production celebrating its 40th birthday at the Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park, with the theme ‘Fabulous!’

The production has the potential to launch national and international stars and plays a major role in promoting inclusiveness and reconciliation.

With a cast of 2300 dancers, a combined choir of 2500, an 80-piece full symphony orchestra, and a 25-piece stage band, the event delivers outstanding dance and musical performance with state-of-the-art sound, lighting and staging.

And there is more to it than that. Narrabri High School Year 12 students Alex Mison and Eliza Dampney played pivotal off-stage roles in the weekend’s events.

Eliza’s position was floor manager for the outdoor festival known as SpecFest.

Now in its fifth year, SpecFest is an outdoor entertainment hub with great food, activations, rest areas and chill-out zones for families to relax in.

Running before and after the main shows inside the Qudos Bank arena, SpecFest features the final rounds of the rural and remote band competition, ‘Surround Sound’.

“The first day we spent training with equipment and protocols, and we were able to have a go at operating equipment such as large TV studio box cameras, audio systems and vision switching controls,” said Eliza.

“Each day was long and tiring, around ten hours a day with some sessions becoming a single five-hour long, on-call period.

“But it was all very exciting and such a great opportunity.

“We ran four sessions over the Friday and Saturday and were lucky enough to get the chance to watch the Arena show on Friday night.

“I was one of two floor managers.

“As part of Spec Fest, we were filming, recording and broadcasting footage live to large screens in the festival area as well as to an online livestream.

“There were nine cameras recording footage between two large stages at either end of the area.

“Two of these cameras were remote roaming cameras.

“My job was to manage, organise and relay information to my roaming camera crew from our show-caller, the head person controlling what happens and keeping us on a tight schedule, making sure there is no downtime between vision switching and activations and that everything transitions and moves forward as flawlessly as possible.

Setting up the stage for the Schools Spectacular.

“The Spec Fest program includes live performances, video displays, as well as live crosses to co-hosts around the spec Fest area.

“A large portion of my role was making sure the co-hosts were in position and prepared to do their live cross.

“I had to have the camera crew, co-host and stall all ready and in position for when our show-caller cued us in.

“As the co-host couldn’t have headsets on and hence hear the show-caller, it was my job to relay all information through cues and signals, letting them know when to start and when they were on camera, as well as when to stretch to give more time for the next item to get ready, and when to wrap up and throw to the next item.

“Overall, it was an amazing experience.

“I got to work with equipment I’d never used before and might not ever have had the chance to.

“I was able to build on the skills and experiences I’d developed stage managing at Narrabri High and apply them on a much larger scale in a far higher stress scenario.

“I was able to work alongside industry professionals who have years of experience under their belts and see what it would be like to work in the entertainment industry and learn from the professionals’ own journey and pathways.

“I met some very talented and enthusiastic students who were very supportive, and we worked together very cohesively for a group who were only brought together a couple days prior.

“It was a great opportunity to experience something new and exciting that I’d not had the chance to do before.”

Just as busy was Alex, who was assisting backstage in the main arena during the two days of productions.

His role involved moving audio equipment, staging props on and off stage, and handing out microphones to performers as they were entering stage.

There was huge responsibility involved in this role, as Alex was required to help try and fix a problem with the stage equipment if anything went wrong.

“The whole thing was really fun and interesting”, said Alex.

“A highlight was the fact that I got to learn a lot from everyone I worked with at Schools Spectacular and I met so many new people.”

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