Leading UK production rental company comes to the aid of Ascot school’s charity rock events

Founded in 1885 and set in 55 acres of beautiful Berkshire suburbia, St. Mary’s in Ascot is a top-rated private Roman Catholic boarding school for around 380 girls aged between 11 and 18. A stable, conservative environment, proud of its academic prowess, it is also gaining some hard-earned rock’n’roll credibility, thanks to a little help from its friends at Entec Sound & Light.

Earlier this year, St. Mary’s hosted its first Rock Night event, featuring bands and acoustic acts formed by pupils as well as special guest trio Dirty Power. The event was held in the school’s purpose-designed, 450-capacity Rose Theatre, managed by Ian Warboys, a former professional sound engineer.

Says Mr. Warboys: “We have been hosting an ‘Open Mike’ night in our rehearsal studio space, once per term over the last three years, and they have encouraged our girls to perform in front of an intimate audience. The popularity of these events increased to the point where we had to move them upstairs into our main theatre. From there we introduced a very successful Jazz Band evening, out of which evolved the idea of a charity Rock Night that we launched in February.”

Along with a Soundcraft GB8 analogue console with a small PA system, the Rose Theatre currently has 96 channels of dimmable lighting with 24 LED cans tied into a conventional rig that runs through a Zero 88 Orb XF console. To add a little extra rock’n’roll authenticity, however, the school reached out to Middlesex-based Entec, the company whose past achievements within the educational sector have included the BBC’s long-running TV series ‘Rock Goes To College’ as well as working on projects for Hampshire’s Beadles School and Woodside High School in north London.

“One of our lower sixth-form pupils, Thalia Guarnieri, a very promising guitarist, is closely linked to Entec through family connections and the company very kindly agreed to lend a hand, with Thalia’s father Giampaolo suggesting Dirty Power as our headliners,” explains Mr. Warboys.

“For our first Rock Night, they provided us with a d&b audiotechnik C-series PA system, comprising of four subs and two top cabinets, and lighting [Showtec Sunstrip battens, four Clay Paky Sharpy moving beams and four Sharpy washes] to give us all we needed to stage a very credible-looking – and sounding – rock show.”

In October, St. Mary’s staged its second Rock Night – again featuring Dirty Power – and Entec upped the ante by upgrading to a d&b line array and doubling the lighting count, adding fixtures including PixelLine LED battens. Mr. Warboys mixed the live sets at FOH while the lighting was operated by assistant drama technicians Crispin Dexter and Mike Barker. Both of the school’s resident consoles were used to drive Entec’s equipment.

“This is a busy theatre, even outside of term,” comments Mr. Warboys. “Concerts, dance shows, plays, film nights… you name it, we’ve pretty much done everything here with an in-house team of three who design, build and run shows, working alongside pupils who assist with design and pre-rigging. That’s something we like to encourage because there are plenty of opportunities to gain experience on the technical side of production for those who don’t aspire to performance. Some of our girls have been very passionate about learning how to program and operate lighting, and mix sound. For some, it may well turn out to be the basis of a future career.”

Following Thalia’s suggestion, the proceeds of October’s Rock Night were donated to the Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit organisation whose aim is to provide a high quality education to children from low-income communities in India. One of the performing musicians, Thalia says: “I was overwhelmed by how cool our Rock Nights turned out to be, particularly the most recent one. We boosted the fund raising by making special bandanas to sell at the gig and the whole experience has inspired us to stage an even bigger rock’n’roll event during the Summer Term next year, at which we hope to include some bands from other schools.”

Mr. Warboys adds: “Entec really is a spectacular company that has bent over backwards to make things happen for us, especially [managing director] Noreen O’Riordan, who has helped and encouraged us in countless ways. We are very, very thankful to her and the rest of the Entec team.”

Photography courtesy of Thalia & Giampaolo Guarnieri and St. Mary’s School

St Mary's rock night