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Star Struck 2024: It’s time to ‘Love it’

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The exceptional talent within the Hunter Valley and Central Coast will come to the fore this month when the curtain rises on Star Struck 2024.

At least 3,500 youngsters are set to take part in the NSW Department of Education annual performing arts event at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 June.

For the uninitiated, it’s a showcase of dance, drama and music, put together by teachers and students from Kindergarten to Year 12, from a vast network of local public schools.

And, operations manager Casey Smith believes this year’s edition, themed Love it, will capture everyone’s hearts.

“I’m pretty confident Star Struck 2024 is going to be the biggest and best yet,” she said.

“There’s a great vibe around the place at the moment.

“Plus, the song list is incredible.

“I’m sure they’ll strike a chord with the audience.”

Star Struck provides performance and learning opportunities for pupils in the arts… and fosters an appreciation of the performing arts.

The program brings together students from very small primary educational establishments to large comprehensive high schools from diverse backgrounds.

In 2024, they’ll represent Adamstown Public, Ashtonfield Public, Barnsley Public, Belair Public, Belmont High, Belmont North PS, Belmont Public, Biraban Public, Blacksmiths, Bolwarra PS, Bonnells Bay Public, Booragul Public, Brisbania PS, Broke Public, Brooke Avenue Public, Budgewoi Public, Callaghan College Jesmond Campus, Callaghan College Wallsend Campus, Callaghan College Waratah Campus, Cardiff High, Cardiff North Public, Cardiff South Public, Carrington Public, Caves Beach Public, Cessnock East Public, Cessnock High, Cessnock West Public, Charlestown East PS, Charlestown Public, Charlestown South Public, Clarence Town Public, Coal Point Public, Denman Public, Dora Creek Public, Dudley Public, Dungog High, East Maitland Public, Edgeworth Public, Elermore Vale Public, Ellalong Public, Erina High, Fassifern Public, Fern Bay Public, Francis Greenway High, Garden Suburb Public, Gillieston Public, Glendale East Public, Glendale Technology High, Gorokan High, Gorokan Public, Grahamstown Public, Greta Public, Hamilton North Public, Hamilton Public, Hamilton South Public, Hinton Public, Hunter River Community, Hunter River High, Hunter School of Performing Arts, Hunter Trebles, Irrawang High, Islington Public, Jewells Primary, Kariong Mountains High, King Street Public, Kitchener Public, Kotara South Public, Kurri Kurri Public, Lake Macquarie High, Lake Munmorah High, Lambton High, Lambton Public, Lisarow High, Maitland Public, Mannering Park Public, Marks Point Public, Mayfield West Demonstration, Medowie Public, Merewether Heights Public, Merewether Public, Merriwa Central, Millfield Public, Minmi Public, Morisset High, Morpeth Public, Mount View High, Muswellbrook South PS, New Lambton Public, New Lambton South, Newcastle East Public, Newcastle High, Nords Wharf Public, Northlakes High, Nulkaba Public, Pelican Flat Public, Rathmines Public, Rutherford Technology High, Salt Ash Public, Scone Public, Shortland Public, Singleton Heights Public, Singleton High, Soldiers Point Public, Speers Point Public, Swansea High, Tanilba Bay Public, Telarah PS, Tenambit Public, Teralba Public, Terrigal High, Terrigal Public, The Junction Public, Thornton Public School, Tomaree High, Tomaree Public, Toronto High, Vacy Public, Wadalba Community, Wallsend Public, Wallsend South Public, Wangi Wangi PS, Waratah West Public, Warners Bay High, Warners Bay Public, West Wallsend High, Whitebridge High, Windale Public, Wirreanda Public, Woodberry Public and Wyee Public.

“Pupils have a chance to partake as part of combined dance, drama or choir, with their school groups, or if successful at audition can participate as featured vocalists or instrumentalists,” Casey told the Newcastle Weekly.

“In addition to these on-stage roles, they also participate as members of the student stage management, choreographic and props design teams.

“That allows them to gain valuable experience across a range of vocational areas in the arts and the opportunity to liaise with industry experts while working towards a nationally-accredited qualification in events.”

Casey, who’s preparing for her fifth Star Struck, is assisted by Kirsten Dickason (creative director), Hayley Vimpani (dance director), Bianca Jennings (drama director), Emma Husband (choir director), Alison Gill (orchestra director), Nathan Faulkner (vocal director) and Bec Munday (stage manager).

Above all else, she’s still amazed by the gifted youngsters in the region.

“100%, I am,” she said.

“Every year, you think ‘oh, those Year 12s or Year 11s are moving on, what do we do now?’

“However, honestly, it’s never a real worry.

“The amount of young people coming through in all the areas, whether it be dance, drama, singing, orchestra or rock band – and even through our schools, is amazing.

“I mean, the Hunter and Central Coast is very talented.

“As well, this generation inspires the next.

“A lot of ex-Star Struck performers have appeared on The Voice or Australian Idol.

“So, the kids are seeing that there is a progression beyond this show.

“There’s a pathway.

“We’ve also welcomed a few former students back as mentors in our music team; some are even choreographing this year.

“It is that cycle, which is what Star Struck’s all about.

“It’s been the case from the opening show 30 years ago.

“People who’ve gone through it will often return and give back.”

That includes one of the extravaganza’s founders, John Deacon.

He’s overjoyed it’s become a staple of the school calendar over the past three decades.

“I guess it was an easy decision in the end [to start it],” 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.

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

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.”

Two of the leads for Love it enter Star Struck 2024 from opposite ends of the spectrum.

The amount of young people coming through in all the areas, whether it be dance, drama, singing, orchestra or rock band – and even through our schools, is amazing.

Casey Horner

Lambton High Year 12 student Lilly Mitchelhill will make her final appearance, while Merewether Public’s Ruben Mietzel takes to the stage for his debut.

Both are eagerly-awaiting the big weekend.

“I did my first Star Struck in Year 3, when I was in the choir,” Lilly said.

“So, I’ve performed on and off for several years now.

“However, this is my last one, there’s a bit of sadness attached to it.

“We’re just going to try and make the most of it.

“Thankfully, I’m in the most songs, so I’m happy about that.”

As for Ruben, the 10-year-old thespian recently made his mark in The Jungle Book at the Civic Playhouse.

“I’m really excited,” he said.

“It’s my maiden Star Struck, so I am a tiny bit nervous.

“But, mostly, I’m looking forward to it.

“I’ve watched it before a few times with my school.

“However, I’ve never performed in an arena like the entertainment centre.”

Star Struck will take place over two days, with Cast A appearing at 11am on Friday 14 June and 7pm on Saturday 15 June.

Cast B steps up from 7pm (on Friday) and 1pm (on Saturday).

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