UK Rock Challenge Ambassadors Blog

Monday, 16 July 2018

The Volunteer Diaries: National Final 2018!

The 2018 tour came to its pinnacle last weekend at the Magna Centre, as 9 teams from across the country made their way to Rotherham from the very bottom of England right up to the North East of Scotland! The National Final was on such a huge scale that it required a gigantic team of people to make it happen including the incredible crews from the Be Your Best Foundation and Rock Challenge®, as well as the tech team from T-MEC, and the guys from Visions and Nick Scott for capturing it all! On top of that there was an incredible 30 volunteers helping everything run smoothly! Something that was really great was managing to unite 13 of our Ambassadors together, because we're usually at different ends of the country so it was great to see everyone come together! I think that everyone from crew to volunteers to the schools themselves are all very grateful for the parts that everyone played in creating the best Rock Challenge® day ever!

From the second the day began the energy was electric - the day began with dance parties and students rushing to snatch up the limited edition Nationals merchandise. Then came rehearsals, each school was fantastic and everyone was super supportive for every single incredible performance.
In between some rehearsals there was a fun challenge as the Scottish teams, Peterhead and Kinross, started some ceilidh dancing and got all the schools involved in a traditional Scottish country dance. It was so cool to see everyone dancing together, having a laugh and trying out something different.  
The morning production meeting was insane - the energy in the room was so high! Best one in the tour and wow those schools were loud! In the afternoon production meeting, those teachers really rocked it out! 
The show was unbelievable and what an incredible standard. Each performance shone in its individuality and creativity and every single member of every team should be SO proud of what they accomplished by getting to Nationals and putting on that show. 
At the end of the day all of the teams gathered in a big room as a volunteer relayed the results - each school was so excited and supportive and you could really feel the love in the room. 4th place went to Peterhead Academy, 3rd place to The Rodillian Academy, 2nd to West Lakes Academy and our new 2018 National Champions are LeAF STUDIO SCHOOL! A huge congratulations to everyone from the Rock Challenge® Ambassadors - this tour has been such a pleasure for us! 

This is what our Ambassadors had to say about their day at the National Final...

"The talent from every single school was absolutely unreal, the dedication and passion that was shown on the stage blew me away! The whole day from start to finish was fantastic and so exciting for everybody involved!" - Katy Bowman

"It was my first ever Nationals I’ve been to and it will be an event I will never forget! The energy from all the students from rehearsals up until they performed was amazing! You could feel that everyone who was involved appreciated and felt lucky to be there! The highlight of my time there was teaching the reps and cohost dance! An all round amazing day!" - Chelsea Powe

"What an amazing weekend to be a part off, the young people coming together from all across the UK to show us there talent was amazing to see. My highlight was definitely the Co-host and Reps dance as it really shows that each team no matter the results were they together as one! 2018 tour has definitely been the best yet! Can’t wait for 2019!" - Shaun Ryan

"From the moment the schools began to arrive the atmosphere was electric and as rehearsals started the excitement continued to build. I knew we were in for a good show. Watching everyone join in the ceilidh with the Scottish schools was amazing and showed that even though they were all there to compete with each other, the most important thing was to have fun and enjoy themselves" - Karen Mackay

"I was so excited to attend my first national final. The best thing about the day, was how all the teams came together to support and make the day special for all teams involved." - Chris Williams

"This was my first time attending a National Final and wow, what a day it was! The journey from the south was definitely worth it as I had such an incredible weekend! Seeing all the schools come together was my highlight with each one supporting each other throughout the day. I’m so happy to have been given the opportunity to go to Nationals and get to know more people that are part of this amazing team! Bring on 2019." - Chloe Jarvis

"What an amazing day and a great way to end my 10th year involved in Rock Challenge®. My second National Final and the standard was amazing. Everyone was so supportive all day and it was amazing to see schools from all over the country come together to put on an amazing show. All the volunteers, Ambassadors and crew have made it such an amazing day for all the young people involved in Rock Challenge®. Can't wait for the 2019 tour!!" - Linzi Grimwood

"All I can say is it was the best experience ever, being able to meet new people from all over the UK bringing them all together to showcase the talent that each and everyone has! It was incredible! That’s what you call the true Spirit of Rock Challenge! #bringonRC2019" - Owen Broomfield

"This was my first National Final and it was 100 times better than I could have ever imagined! The support all the schools had for one another showed the real spirit of the event and it was brilliant to see such talented young people from all around the UK come together for a fantastic show!" - Emma Cathro

"I think there's always something special about a National Final because each of the schools are just so grateful to have a bonus event to spend the day together, perform their piece again and to have a fun Rock Challenge® day. It makes for such a special atmosphere. I also LOVED seeing all the schools learning to ceilidh dance because it was a bit of fun silliness that you couldn't have expected!" - Katie Daniel

Some of the incredible crew members also said..

"The 4th National Final is one I will remember for a very long time! Everything from the venue to the schools and participants, the engagement from the sponsors and the wonderful army of volunteers and Ambassadors, the Stage Team, the Production Team, the comperes and the brilliant audience, everything just clicked. One of the things I loved the most was how all the schools seemed so happy to be there it didn’t seem to matter to any of them who won, they were all winners already. Thank you to everyone who gave so much to make the event what it was: unforgettable!" - Be Your Best Foundation CEO, David Beal

"The National Final to me was a celebration of the wonderful and talented young people we have involved in the UK Rock Challenge! I felt extremely privileged and proud that I got to share the stage with amazing people from performers, teachers and Ambassadors to staff, directors and sponsors. Thank you to everyone who was involved in some way!" - Rock Challenge Stage Manager, Jonathan Wood

"The day was absolutely brilliant, with each and every school whole heartedly embracing the spirit of the event. We cannot thank our Amassadors, volunteers, crew and techs enough for what they have helped to achieve this year!" - Rock Challenge Assistant Event Manager, Charlotte Payne

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Volunteer Diaries: Northern Finals 2018!

Last weekend the Northern Finals absolutely blew the roof off Grimsby Auditorium, here's three of our Ambassadors, Ben, Chris and Beth to tell you more about what they got up to!

Rock Challenge® Ambassador Ben on the Northern J RockFinal:
Thursday July 28th and my first ever Grimsby J Rock event. I'd previously helped at the Rotherham heats and seen a few performances so I thought I knew what to expect, but I couldn't have been more wrong! I was told by the other crew members that it was one of the highest quality J Rock finals in a long time so I was looking forward to watching the rehearsals. The teams I had already seen had stepped up their game and the other schools were fantastic. I was sat at the merchandise desk during the day and so had a great view of the stage. The first few rehearsals were of a great quality and, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed the morning production meeting. The J Rock students made a lot of noise for such small people!
Wow. I have seen some great performances and rehearsals over the 5 years I have been involved in Rock Challenge® but nothing could've prepared me for the standard of the Northern Junior Final. I was speechless. I loved every performance of the night and every team should be incredibly proud of themselves! Maryport were deserved winners on the night. I think a number of performances could've put up a good fight the Seniors in the open final the next day! I can't wait to see what next year brings. The future of Rock Challenge® is very bright.

Rock Challenge® Ambassador Chris on the Northern Open Final:
For the third year in a row I attended the Northern Open Final at Grimsby Auditorium. The spirit of Rock Challenge® was alive as soon as I arrived as the 10 competing schools were getting ready for the day ahead. Since the first time I attended the event in 2016, this was main thing I noticed at Grimsby was the electric energy and buzz from all the schools.
The spirit grew rapidly as the day went on.  The support the rehearsing schools received from the other schools was amazing. It is easy for a friendly atmosphere to get lost when competing, however at Rock Challenge® the spirit and support is always amazing.
One of the highlights of the day for me was seeing all the other teams rehearse and showing their piece they had all worked so hard on. There was a wide range of interesting, entertaining, emotional and thought-provoking pieces. You could tell each team had worked so hard to get to the finals and each school had such great performances and energy.
Another thing I particularly loved about the day is that, the result really didn’t matter. It is great for teams to realise their hard work and dedication isn’t always defined by a trophy. I think all the teams will agree that the real trophy from the day was getting the opportunity to perform with their peers on a professional stage, showcasing their piece they had been working so hard on for months.
I had such a great time, working alongside the crew and volunteers who had travelled all across the UK to attend the event. Rock Challenge® is an experience like no other and I am so proud to be an Ambassador for such a great event. I am looking forward to attending next year, where I’m sure the spirit will be even higher and performances even better.

Rock Challenge® Ambassador Beth on the Northern Premier Final:
Volunteering at the Northern Premier Final was a fantastic experience and it was also the penultimate event of the 2018 tour. The day was packed and from the moments the schools started to arrive the energy was electric. My day consisted of initially welcoming the schools before spending the daytime and evening running all the teams to and from their rehearsals and evening performances. Running is such a fab job as it allowed me to watch the first rehearsal of each school and see their costumes up close in the evening and I was blown away by the standard! I also collated the awards for Spirit of Rock Challenge® and Performer's Choice, which as always is a very difficult choice for the schools. You can see how much passion each of the premier teams have for Rock Challenge® and it is visible from the performers, crew and teachers (I have never seen so many props flying around on stage during an air guitar competition)!
Overall the Northern Premier Final was an incredible day and my first experience being at a Premier Final! The standard was exceptional and you really couldn’t call it! Each and every school were very supportive of one another and should all be incredibly proud!
Good luck to each and every school going to Nationals!

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Volunteer Diaries: Scottish Final 2018!

Rock Challenge® Ambassador Ethan tells us about his experience at the Scottish Final this year and what a day in the life of a volunteer is like!

I travelled with a group of friends from Peterhead in the northeast of Scotland to Dundee’s Caird Hall for this year's Scottish Final. I had volunteered at nearly every other Scottish event and had seen most of the finalists perform at their heats. There is roughly a month's gap between heats and finals, this means teams have time to reflect on judges comments from the heat and make changes to improve their performances. As the heat performances were already such a high standard, I wondered how everybody could possibly raise the bar higher. So seeing that was what I was looking forward to the most!

The morning starts the same as any other Rock Challenge
® event. I was outside welcoming and greeting the teams. For safety reasons, wristbands are provided to all teams. The big group of volunteers and crew make sure everyone that enters the venue has their wristband on. The first few teams rehearse, then it’s time for the morning production meeting! This is when the running order for the show is decided. 

At night, the comperes of the show will be given script cards - these are pre-printed, but are put in correct order by volunteers to ensure the show runs as arranged in the morning production meeting. Organising the judging sheets in order of performance was something I helped with. I was there on hand for the crew if they needed to delegate tasks to me throughout the day to ensure that the event ran smoothly.

When the doors opened for the audience, I was on the greeting team for our invited guests and then when the show began, I helped for a little while running the performers from their dressing rooms to the stage. This is probably one of the hardest jobs as the dressing rooms are spread out across the venue - and one was even off site in a nearby cathedral. My friends and fellow volunteers Chris, Elissa, Holly and Maisie did an amazing job of this and kept the show running to schedule. 

During the interval, I interviewed the invited guests and the general consensus was that they all were impressed at the standard of the show. Marie Todd MSP said she was inspired by the performances and the mature way in which sensitive concepts were handled to commemorate past events. The interviews will help to spread word of Rock Challenge® in the press and on social media.

For the results ceremony, we had to relay results to the dressing rooms as there wasn’t enough space in the auditorium for all the teams to get in to watch. To do this we are on the phone or have walkie-talkies with someone standing in the wings so we can pass on the information about who is winning awards as it happens. I had to explain to everyone in the dressing room how important it was to stay quiet so they wouldn’t miss a thing, and to be happy and supportive no matter the outcome. When the results had all been announced I was happy to see the teams congratulating one another. They all knew that top 9 in Scotland was a great achievement, and was something to be proud of! This year's Scottish Final was such a high standard, I was really impressed with their creativity, skill and passion from performers to crew and design. Very excited to see Kinross again at the National Final!!

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Volunteer Diaries: Southern Finals 2018!

Some of our volunteers and Ambassadors are recording their experiences from this year's finals to give you an insight into the event days and what it's like to volunteer for Rock Challenge®. Here's what Ambassadors Katy and Chelsea, who travelled all the way down to Portsmouth from Cumbria, have to say about this years Southern Finals...

We decided to volunteer at the Southern Open Final B & Southern Premier Final this year, we always go to the Northern and Scottish events so we were really excited to see what Southern was all about! The Portsmouth Guildhall is absolutely amazing, such a huge venue and being in an actual theatre makes the Rock Challenge® high feel even better!

On the first day at Southern Open Final B we were running the schools to and from their rehearsals, and then running the schools from their dressing room to the stage for the evening show, after getting lost around 10 times we finally started to get our bearings in the Guildhall. At the end of the show we also had the task of relaying the results to 2 of the competing schools, as the show was very close to a sell out the teams could not go into the theatre to listen to the results live so we had to read the results out to them in their dressing room which is always an exciting and nerve-wracking experience!

On day 2 for the Southern Premier Final we were selling the merchandise, which was great as we got to see all the Premier schools rehearse throughout the day! The morning & afternoon production meetings were absolutely buzzing! All the schools were supporting each other and the atmosphere was just crazy all day! By the end of the day we had completely sold out of Rock Challenge® t-shirts & lanyards which was great. We went out into the main entrance to sell the merchandise in the evening and offering programmes for the show for a donation which resulted in lots of money being raised for Rock Challenge®! We then once again relayed the awards of excellence and the results to 2 schools.

Overall our Southern Final experience has been a real eye opener. It was great to see how Rock Challenge® runs from their HQ in Portsmouth. The schools at the event are so different to the Northern and Scottish schools, so it was great to see a more contemporary take to Rock Challenge®. We will definitely be returning!!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Stage crew, the hidden heroes!

Backstage crew; our hidden heroes? It’s always great to go to a show and see your child on stage surrounded by some awe-inspiring set that “just appears” out of nowhere but what you hopefully don’t see is a team that is working hard to make the performance run as seamlessly as possible. So, what is it that a good stage crew does?

The backstage crew’s job starts as early as the dancers, they should be at every rehearsal learning the performance and getting to know the soundtrack, so they know when to move and how the dancers move so they don’t end up colliding. They will also hopefully have the opportunity to help build set and props over the coming months to be used during the show.

When it comes to the day of the event, the stage crew show up and their first job is to unload the set from the bus/van/lorry/horse box…. we’ve seen it all, and the work starts there. Inspect the set and make sure it hasn’t been damaged in transit then make any repairs necessary, you’ll then be directed by the Rock ChallengeⓇ crew where they want you to unload to.

At your rehearsal, you should have your stage crew treat it like it’s the real show, you don’t get timed during your rehearsal but it’s the one chance you get all year to get a rough idea of how you are going to do everything so take full advantage of it but remember that things sometimes change between rehearsal and show because the school before you or after you can cause changes to the plan so you have to be adaptive and think on the spot. It is this that makes backstage work so difficult but rewarding.

The show comes, and if you’re anything like me, your adrenaline rises and the panic sets in: I only have 4 minutes! But don’t worry, this is normal! Take a deep breath and remember that you know what you’re doing.
Get your set on stage as quick as you can, leaving space to get the rest of your set on and go back to do as many trips as needed. Work together, do not run and remember that safety and communication is key.
Once all your set is on stage and assuming that no one has been stood around doing nothing, it is then that your 4 minutes starts. The centre of the stage is marked so you can line everything up. It helps to assign someone to be your crew leader, have them be your conductor and make sure everything is lined up where it should be with everyone working safely. It is this person who should make sure everything is done and let the Rock ChallengeⓇ crew know to stop the clock. Don’t waste time asking about the 4 minutes as they won’t be able to tell you until after the show anyway.

Something that the judges are looking for is an adaptive stage. Although a big set will get you some points, a clever set will get you more. A choreographed stage crew is just as important to your piece as a lead dancer, they have to know the soundtrack inside out. The difference is that they often can’t see where they are going (from behind set) so they need to know this purely from looking up at the lighting rig or using the stage curtains.

As your 8 minutes finish, wait until the lights come back up and your 4 minutes will start again but you don’t have to get it off stage, just enough out of the way that it doesn’t obstruct the next school from getting onto the stage so make sure your dancers are clear then start moving your set into the wings. Have your van keys ready if you can and you are welcome to load your set up. Once everything is safely packed away, you can finally rest and wait for the results!

Remember to enjoy your day, drink plenty of water and eat to keep your energy up because it’s a long day. On the day there is no such thing as different stage crews, we are all one big stage crew so talk to the different schools. If you see people struggling then offer them some help because teamwork is what makes the show run on time and makes it look so professional.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Recognition for those behind the scenes!

It is easy to forget all of the backstage crew in Rock Challenge® teams as they are never seen by the audience, but they are key to the success of a Rock Challenge® piece. With so many marking criteria such as visual enhancement, soundtrack and set design & function relying on the efforts of the backstage team, they are just as important as the performers!

As we can appreciate, a lot of time behind the scenes goes into creating a Rock Challenge® piece, and this time is also used for those designing and making set, costumes, soundtracks, video plans and lighting cues as well as choreographing and rehearsing the performance elements.

At Rock Challenge®, having students as stage crew is a requirement, so already the students involved in creating and moving set are vital. The stage crew need to be able to set and strike their set in a 4-minute time slot, either side of the performance. With Rock Challenge® sets getting increasingly bigger and crazier, students can be working with extremely heavy, large, and complicated set pieces. Therefore, communication is key for the set to be put up in an efficient, but more importantly, safe manner. As well as getting the set on and off of stage before and after the performance, they are also key in moving pieces of set smoothly, safely and successfully during the piece, in a way that adds a unique element to the performance. At Rock Challenge®, we also look for teams that co-operate among themselves, but also with other crews. What performers may not know, is that at some venues, there is a scramble at the interval to move the first half set out of the venue and the second half set into the building, and often this is a huge team effort involving all stage crews. Without the hard work and determination of Rock Challenge® stage crews, the event would not run as seamlessly as it does.

More backstage team members with a role during the show that you may not notice are; the lighting designer, who calls the lighting cues during the performance to their lighting design they created that day; the follow spot operators, who move the follow spot lights to focus on certain performers on stage; and the video director, who instructs which camera shots they would like to be shown on the screens and on the DVD to highlight the most important elements of their Rock Challenge® piece.

Other backstage members at Rock Challenge® can include those who design and make the costumes, and those who design and apply make-up to the performers. At event days, time can be limited in terms of getting ready for shows, and schools are increasingly becoming more ambitious with the costuming character elements and the visual enhancement elements. Therefore, all help is much appreciated!

Somebody who may not even attend the event day could be the soundtrack designer. The soundtrack is important to tie a story or theme together and can really add that extra level of engagement to a piece.

To those of you in Rock Challenge® teams, please give a great pat on the back to your backstage team members. Also, if watching a performance, try to keep an eye out for a stage crew member – try to spot them if you can!

Emily Dimino
Rock Challenge® Ambassador

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Set design and construction tips!

The 2018 Rock Challenge® tour has just kicked off, but for many teams, the creation of your production may still be underway, but it is never to soon to start thinking about next year or adding more to your piece this year. One of our Rock Challenge® Ambassadors, and set design and construction extraordinaire, Steven shares his top tips. 

Firstly, be sure to pay lots of attention at your Rock Challenge® event and see if you can spark some inspiration. If you see something you like on the day speak to the other schools, ask how it was made and take photos, that’s what the Spirit of Rock Challenge® is all about, everyone should be friendly and happy to share their tips! Many teams tend to have staff or parents who are able to build their set. If not, there are people within the Rock Challenge® family who will be happy to help by offering advice on how to build it yourself. If you're looking for a hand, don't hesitate to pop a message up on the Facebook official group or shoot Rock Challenge® an email and they can forward you on to a local Ambassador who is here to help!

Set design and construction can sometimes be a bit of a scary subject for a lot of schools, sometimes you don’t have the budget or the facilities to make a truck load of set but it’s important to remember that big set doesn’t necessarily win you a Rock Challenge®. A clever, well used set can take you far. 

I’m often asked about how and when should set design come into the process of creating your Rock Challenge® and, in my opinion, it should really be from day one. When you’re deciding a theme and imagining costumes, dances, soundtrack you should be thinking about youset and how you can interact with it. Another thing that you need to remember when creating the scale of your set pieces is that you will need enough stage crew members to shift it onto and around the stage.The Rock Challenge® crew and volunteers will be there to help on the day but you can't expect them to do it all.

So how should it be built? There is no right answer to this question, as everyone has their own way of doing things, the only common rule is that everything has to be safe. Personally, I like to use softwood planed timber, plywood and polycarbonate hollow structured sheets because they are lightweight and therefore easy to move around the stage. I would recommend that you avoid MDF (it’s heavy, doesn’t like getting wet, plus it’s carcinogenic when cutting), foam (it may be light but it breaks easily, and can make the stage slippy for the dancers) and castors (wheels) that are too small (they may be cheap but unfortunately most stages aren’t smooth and level so they can get caught, break and be difficult to control). 

Here's an example of a set piece from frame to fully built!

So how is it done? My advice is to make a solid frame and cover it with light material. The trick to remember is that the set piece needs to look good from a distance. It can be that "easy", a simple wooden frame held together with screws (meaning it can be taken apart and the wood re-used next year!) Then it can be covered with whatever exterior you require to display your theme. 

It’s not as scary as you might think, just be sure to take your time and plan ahead! And remember: as long as it’s safe, you’ve done a great job!