Balcarras School – Arts Online Initiative
Following the Covid-19 school closures, Balcarras School in Cheltenham set up their Balacarras Arts Online initiative to keep students engaged in the arts, from home.
Most Wednesdays the school streamed highlights from past school productions accompanied by new home recorded introductory and end pieces by current students and alumni. The initiative also featured regular video and written submissions from students.
As part of the initiative, Balcarras set up ‘Alumni Assemble‘ – a series of ongoing professional talks and workshops made by former students now in the arts industry – actors, technicians, musicians, fine artists.
Recently Balcarras delivered their 2020 Midsummer Music Festival. This was phenomenally well received – with a steady audience throughout the night – peaking at 178 screens and sustaining somewhere near this figure. Several families got together to watch in their gardens so the audience on the night was probably near 1000, with lots of lovely messages of thanks and support coming in hroughout the 4hour event.
Students sent in pre-recorded music videos they mostly made for the event, and these were hosted from the school on the night – music and drama staff providing live socially distanced links regularly across the evening from inside and outside school as the sun set. Take-up from students was very positive, with about 80 separate submissions – some featuring bands who mixed work from isolation. The event included a Mystery Staff Singer Competition that was run as a promo daily in the 2 weeks preceding the show – with reruns and answers revealed across the night at regular junctions. There were also a few pieces by local professionals and staff including the headteacher, as well as uplifting video montages from the school’s pastoral teams.
The D&T food dept held a picnic competition and asked people to email in photos during the night that were shared in a montage at the end – accompanied by live music [‘Bring Me Sunshine’] on piano.
As part of the event, there was a PTFA fundraiser, splitting monies between school, and 2 local professional arts providers – the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre and Cheltenham Festivals, raising £1200.
The whole broadcast was technically put together by a brilliant apprentice technician, 6th form alumnus Oskar Brennan [who’s just 19] using freely available software. On the night he vision mixed whilst another alumnus technician, Ross Fitzsimmons did camera and sound.
The school’s ambition was to bring the school community together with an online event that would emotionally capture the spirit of the usual live festival. The heartfelt messages received made it clear this goal was very much achieved. In the process Balcarras aspired to assert the power of the arts to raise morale, boost mental well-being and provide hope in these challenging times.