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Quite a surprise . . . Craighead Diocesan School pupil Kate Low (17, left) and former pupil Alexis Townshend (18) were surprised to hear high school performing arts competition Stage Challenge has been cancelled. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

The cancellation of Stage Challenge has come as a “complete surprise” to South Canterbury schools, one school principal says.

Craighead Diocesan School principal Lindy Graham said the announcement last week that the high school performing arts competition was to close, due to financial difficulties, had left her “shocked”.

“It’s been such a well-supported event and a highlight for most schools.”

Ms Graham said the competition provided a chance for school pupils across the year levels to work together in a variety of areas, including performance, sound, lighting and choreography.

She also had appreciated the competition had enabled both tiny rural schools and large urban schools to compete.

An average of 80 Craighead pupils were involved each year.

“We are disappointed in the lost opportunity for those students who love to participate in school-wide cultural activities.”

Craighead pupil Kate Low, who is now in year 13, said she and fellow pupils had already begun planning their performance this year.

“It just came as quite a shock . it’s been going strong for so long.”

Former pupil Alexis Townshend, who won one of two national leadership awards for her work on Craighead’s performance last year, said it gave pupils of all abilities the chance to work as a team and perform on stage.

The school had more than 60 pupils involved in last year’s performance, from year 7 upwards, and it gave the older girls the chance to interact and support their younger schoolmates, she said.

Ms Graham said while she understood that the competition had become financially unviable for the foundation, she hoped it could be funded through Government funding or other sponsors.

“There must be some way of retaining Stage Challenge and J Rock [its primary school equivalent] as an important cultural activity – especially when you compare with the amount of funding that goes into sport.”

New Zealand Secondary School Principals’ Association Canterbury and West Coast president Phil Holstein said he was “shattered” by the announcement.

Mr Holstein, who is the principal of Burnside High School in Christchurch, said his pupils had already begun planning their performance for this year and an average of 300 pupils were involved.

He hoped an alternative event would start up for school-age performers.

Other South Canterbury schools that have participated in Stage Challenge were contacted for comment but did not respond by deadline.