Former Stage Challenge participants are devastated at the loss of the nationwide competition, but its demise may not spell the end of opportunities for local school children to perform.

Stage Challenge, along with J Rock, has been axed for 2018, but the Lakes Performing Arts Company has come to the rescue.

Rebecca Brake, managing director of the company, said the loss of the programme was "absolutely devastating".

"That was such a highlight for so many students. However we have been talking with a lot of teachers around the region and we've volunteered to run a similar programme."


Brake said the company's new programme would be called Rock the Stage, and while it was in the early planning stages, it would be run in a similar fashion to Stage Challenge.

The Lakes Performing Arts Company plans to launch Rock the Stage to give students the same opportunities Stage Challenge did.

This year, the programme will run for Waikato and Bay of Plenty schools but Brake hoped it could expand nationwide if they found financial backing.

"It would run as similarly to Stage Challenge and J Rock as we can because the programme is familiar to people. We don't want to make too many changes," Brake said.

"It gives an opportunity to those who wouldn't normally do performing arts to be involved in something creative. It builds so many skills: communication, confidence … The list of benefits is really endless."

Turanga Merito competed in Stage Challenge as a student and is now the company's artistic director.

He said the loss of the competition was a "huge blow" and it was heartbreaking to think students wouldn't have the opportunities he'd had while involved in Stage Challenge.

"Looking back on high school years there are certain points that stick out to me as confidence building and life experience, and Stage Challenge is definitely one of those key moments," Merito said.

"It would be really sad to see that opportunity not here anymore. It's a vital and integral part of the school calendar."

Brake said the company had spoken with Stage Challenge organisers who were happy for them to launch Rock the Stage.

Stage Challenge organisers attributed the cancellation of the programme, which has run for 25 years, to the fact income from planned shows would not have covered costs.

Foundation chairman Lester Taylor said several factors came into the decision.

Major production costs such as venue hire, staging, lighting and sound had increased over the years, he said.

Brake said a similar fate would not befall Rock the Stage.

"It's a non-profitable thing. We will keep the fees as low as we can and talk to people about venues to keep costs as low as possible."

She said the programme had been a highlight in school calendars during its tenure.

"If you asked a student their highlight for the year, it's often Stage Challenge," she said.

"My son did his first J Rock last year and loved it."

John Paul College dance teacher Jane Trask said she was disappointed given some students had already put in a few months of planning for Stage Challenge.

"However we're looking forward to finding alternative performing arts and dance opportunites to experience with our students."

Western Heights High School teacher Tina Carlson echoed those comments.

"It was a very important part of our school year. The competition benefited all parts of our school community and the wider Rotorua community," Carlson said.

"It was a fantastic creative and learning opportunity in so many ways."

Singer-songwriter Lizzie Marvelly was "gutted" to hear about the loss of the programmes which she called a rite of passage.

"I took part in Stage Challenge when I was at Rotorua Girls' High School and it was one of the highlights of the school year," Marvelly said.

"Stage Challenge and J Rock were important opportunities for Kiwi youth to get involved with performing arts. Students gain confidence, explore their creativity, learn valuable theatre-making skills and make lots of new friends through Stage Challenge."

Stage Challenge incorporated performing arts such as dance, music, design and drama within an eight-minute performance.

J Rock provided primary and intermediate pupils the opportunity to express their creativity through the same artistic channels.

Each year about 200 schools, 16,000 participants and an audience of 25,000 people would turn out for the events, held at more than 10 venues around the country.