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ON the same day that concerns over schools cutting back on creative subjects such as music and drama hit the national headlines last week, around a quarter of the students at one Forest school were putting the finishing touches their latest stage production.

The spectacular production of Fame – The Musical at Newent Community School featured more than 200 performers on stage and another 60 students working behind the scenes on everything from hair and make-up to props, lighting and sound with support from staff.

The production – which had two dress rehearsals in front of more than 400 pupils from local primary schools – also featured live music from a 15-strong ensemble of students.

The show tells the story of the final class of New York’s High School for Performing Arts from their admission in 1980 to graduation in 1984.

The school’s head of drama, Marie Hood, said: “The show provides a unique opportunity to showcase talent both on stage and off, with all the roles being taken by our fantastic young people.

“All year groups – from Year Seven to Year 13 – are represented with experienced performers standing alongside those who are taking our first steps.

“Backstage has been managed by our sixth form, many of whom are studying for their gold Arts Award and who have developed our crew apprenticeship to ensure everyone from Year Seven to Year 13 can play a part.”

The sound equipment used in the production was paid for with funds raised by an auction of promises held at the school.

The road to the seven performances, which took place between Wednesday and Saturday last week, started just a fortnight into the new school year in September with a week of auditions.

Mrs Hood said: “Year Seven had only just started at the school when we began – there was a week of auditions and we have been rehearsing every Wednesday and Friday and, since the start of (January) we’ve also been rehearsing on weekends.

“There has been a huge amount of commitment shown by everyone involved.

“We did Bugsy Malone last year and so, madly, we wanted an even bigger cast and crew this year.”

“We had about 150 students last year and this year it’s more than 200 – we wanted something where we could have big ensemble numbers but also lots of main roles so there were lots of opportunities for different students to show their talents. 

“There was fierce competition and it was difficult making the decisions but in the end it was who was best for the role. 

“All our backstage roles are by students as well, who did letters of application.

There are about 60 who don’t get seen because they are backstage and there is our wonderful orchestra providing live music.

“One of the songs in the show is Hard Work but it is hard work that pays off as it gives so many of our students the opportunity to shine.”

Principal Alan Johnson added: “The show is amazing and a testament to all the work that so many people have put into it.

“There was a big story about schools cutting the arts but here at Newent we are passionate that every young person should have the opportunity to be creative.”

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A SHOWCASE concert at the Forest High School in Cinderford will feature the musical talents of students past and present.

The event, on Friday February 9, has been organised by the Year 11 BTEC music group.

The eight students behind it have spent nearly two years planning and organising it as part of their course.

They have been attending lessons after school for two hours every week since 2016 and before that went to an after-school club.

They will be performing as well as running the event on the night, which takes place between 6pm and 8pm in the school’s Spotlight Theatre.

The takings will be split between the school and the Music Works which helps young people express themselves through music.

The BTEC music group has been inspired by working with Robin Jones the studio manager, an ex-student himself and by local band Elessar, who performed at the first gig the students helped organised.

The first half will include performances by younger students and the headline act is In the Rough, a band made up of three of the Forest High BTEC students, and one student from Five Acres Academy.

The band’s lead guitarist and singer, Billy Baker, said: “ Involvement in music through school and the Music Works has improved me as a musician and as a person, making me more confident.

“Putting together gigs at Forest of Dean Community Church helped us build experience and enabled us to meet Paige, our bass player and singer.

“In the last nine months we have played in Cinderford, Gloucester and Newnham and started writing our own songs.

“I have been offered a place to do music at college this September which was my aim from the start”

Head teacher at Forest High, Paul Holroyd said: “We are delighted that our BTEC music students have been able to set this up. They have the full support of the school.

“We want all our students to see how, with hard work, commitment and inspiration, great things can be achieved.”

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