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Star Struck 2024: Co-founder John Deacon’s heart still swells with pride

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John Deacon’s heart swells with pride at the mention of Star Struck.

As one of the extravaganza’s founders, he’s overjoyed it’s become a staple of the Hunter Valley and Central Coast school calendar over the past three decades.

And, in 2024, about 130 educational institutes – from Adamstown Public to Wyee Public – will take part in this year’s event, themed Love It, at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 June.

“I guess it was an easy decision in the end,” he said.

“Basically, we had an entertainment centre… so the adage ‘if you build it, they will come’ came true.

“That was in 1992 and we staged out inaugural show in 1993.

“It’s funny… the late John Denver officially opened the Newcastle Entertainment Centre and the Minister for Education said, at the time, ‘a year from now, you’ll have your own entertainment’.

“I was involved with the Schools Spectacular in Sydney.

“So, when the minister mentioned that, it sounded like a good idea and we said: ‘let’s do it’.

“Everyone was on board from the start, because most of them had some sort of connection with the Spectacular, which is the big drawcard for performing arts in in the state.

“There were a few of us who’d been sort of doing that for four or five years beforehand.

“We thought why travel when we can do it here?

“And, it gave us a greater view for the kids in this area.

“There are a lot of talented children in the Hunter and on the Central Coast, so they needed a pathway.

“For instance, someone like John Foreman, who was born in Newcastle but had to go to Sydney to progress.

“Star Struck could open doors for other performers.”

Everyone was on board from the start, because most of them had some sort of connection with the Spectacular, which is the big drawcard for performing arts in in the state.

John Deacon

John admitted he was “pleasantly surprised” to witness the event’s growth over the years.

“Absolutely, that was the dream we had,” he said.

“But, you know, with the very first show we were thinking ‘will we ever have another one? We’d better make this as good as we can’.

“So, myself, Sue Leask and Ollie Maywald, the other director at the time, would come down and shake hands with everyone as they exited the performance.

“We’d say: ‘thanks very much, tell all your friends to come back tomorrow night’.

“We only had 1,100 people on that first evening.

“However, after that, it sold out, so we knew it was going to be successful.

“Then it was a matter of deciding to do it annually or every second year.

“We opted for 12 months because sponsors came on, which made a difference.

“And, for us, it was a success from the point view that it involved everyone, from teachers to kids, supporters to the community at large.”

John’s witnessed many highlights during his time with Star Struck but one moment sticks out.

“A couple of years ago, it became so big that we couldn’t do the finale with everyone on the floor, they wouldn’t fit,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“That’s 3,500 kids!

“So, we had to stage two finales – one with high school and one with primary school.

“That’s how big it had grown.”

Not surprisingly, John’s still involved with Star Struck but in a unique role.

“Only in the respect that I started all of this by doing puppets,” he explained.

“It was something different, I guess.

“I’ve been performing with puppets for almost four decades, including the Schools Spectacular.

“Even though I directed (Star Struck) for 18 years, they were still important for me.

“That was the link.

“So, although I retired from directing in 2020, I’ve been doing puppets ever since.

“And, now, my granddaughter Quinn has followed in my footsteps.

“This will be her fifth year as one of my puppeteers.

“Honestly, I feel like a grandfather to the show and now I have my granddaughter with me,” he added with a laugh.

“It’s really cool.

“I have nine grandchildren, so most of them have got their eye on puppets, it’s marvellous.

“Even when Quinn was two or three, we would take her along and she’d stand there and help direct.

“She’d tell the performers when they could go on stage and when they couldn’t be on stage.

“It was very, very funny.

“So, it’s just a natural progression that she would follow on… she’s also in drama groups and everything now, which is really good.”

And, it seems John will remain part of the Star Struck furniture for as long as he can.

“I just want to say that the event has always been, and is always, a cooperative thing,” he explained.

“Obviously, the talent among the youngsters will be there forever.

“However, the teachers, who are involved, are just remarkable people as well.

“They will go from one position – at the school – to all-of-a-sudden being an expert in drama, music or whatever, guiding kids and nurturing their potential.

“But, put it all together, it’s a powerful, powerful thing.

“It’s fun… to be there and to be in.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it; I wouldn’t stay that long if I didn’t.

“Jo Thorn’s been involved since day one, too… that says a lot about the Star Struck community.”

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