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Backstage Academy’s inspired Graduation Showcase
UK – Backstage Academy, the leading live event production educational facility, took full advantage of the vast Production Park on which it is based to present a thrilling Graduation Showcase recently. Third year students were assessed in an entirely project-based environment across five very different presentations, with each team working under a project manager. This had inspired not only the lecturers but also the many industry partners who supported the event, some arriving fresh from attending PLASA Focus down the road in Leeds.
Vice Principal Rachel Nicholson said that the idea of designing real world concepts – effectively transforming black box studio/stages into coruscating jewels – had grown out of the Live Visual Design & Production course. “It’s the first time we’ve presented the work in this fashion,” she confirmed. “The team looked back at last year and decided they wanted more scope to visualise. Our live visual design course has always been project based, so we adapted that to the other courses which seemed the most natural thing in the world to do.”
All shows had come entirely from the imagination of students, she said. “They are exploring the cutting edge of new technology and what can be done, but at the same time it’s also a validation of the confidence placed in the students by the lecturers. Neither could we have done it without the support, passion and enthusiasm of our industry partners. The Graduation Showcase is just one day but it represents three years’ hard work.” In fact, many of those industry partners had already set up training days for students in advance, in order to build operational skills with the platforms.
The five distinct concepts, staged by students from Backstage’s three degree courses: Live Events Production, Live Visual Design & Production and Stage & Production Management, were designed to challenge the audience in some instances, and invite them into the conversation in others.
They were able to connect with advanced motion tracking control, full sensory immersion in a simulated VR ‘CAVE’ type environment (but with Sennheiser headsets rather than stereoscopic 3D specs). Elsewhere, in Studio 001, Production’s Park’s arena sized rehearsal facility, there was a new take on a typical festival stage, while in the Academy’s central studios, moving sound objects in space via d&b audiotechnik’s Soundscape was the order of the day, putting the audience at the centre and removing sound far from its traditional L/R stereo paradigm.
Another highly original feature was the 30-minute one-man Media Clown silent show, which was fully motion tracked using infra-red beacons worn by the personnel. Production managed by Kate Barker, this was described by technical director and co-creator Shannon Harvey, as “the biggest collision and mash up of creative ideas I have ever been involved with. I said I would bring every toy I could to this party!” The project was more remarkable since it involved a collaboration across the ocean with students from the University of Iowa.
The ‘toys’ Shannon referred to included an array of media servers, from Green Hippo, Avolites, Disguise, their devices in many cases handshaking with other platforms like Notch video content builder, BlackTrax tracking and Perception Neuron motion capture.
Currently still in the workshop stage, the world premier of Media Clown will take place at the Prague Quadrennial 2019 as part of the Student Festival.
Access to Production Park’s vast facilities brought the students as close to a real world scenario as possible. The other presentations comprised Diamond Stage (PM Emily Popham), a unique take on a festival stage, featuring RCF HDL line array rig and Midas FOH desk; Mood Cube (PM Jessica Miree), immersive 3D environment with projection onto a HoloGauze surface; Reverse In The Round (PM Abby Draisy) and 360° (PMs Luke Deakin and Scott James), showing the unique properties of Soundscape, using live musicians to move audio objects around in space.
Summarising the experience, one industry partner, Music Tribe’s Joel Perry, stated: “It’s obvious [Backstage Academy] has full industry backing, with all tech companies working together. Being based at Production Park makes this a real-life experience; it’s like a working farm, and as good as any venue. They have access to very high standard kit, and having started at the top end will benefit them further down the line.”
But at the end of it, this was essentially a Degree Show, an academic assessment of work or a ‘digital dissertation’ as someone put it. And it was evident that the future is clearly safe in these young hands.
The final word comes from Rachel Nicholson. “The high that the students will get from today they will remember forever.”
photos: Sarah Womack and Daniel Fine
30th May 2019
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