My Story, Connor Strange

This post was written by Connor Strange. Connor is 24 years old from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire. He is originally from Wales but lived in England for about 4 years of his life, and is a former radio presenter from Eden FM Radio, a community radio station in Penrith, Cumbria. He now works in theatre & events as a freelance theatre technician & event crew.

He is also a champion & ambassador for the Time to Change Wales campaign. This has allowed him to gain new skills, meet new people and share his story of how stigma and discrimination has affected him in his life. 

In this blog post he discusses the experiences he has had in radio, theatre & events over the past few years, and his experiences during the current Covid-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak.

Today in this blog, I thought it would be a good idea to share my experiences of volunteering in radio & events, my experiences in technical theatre and other things I have been a part of.

To understand my journey, I need to give some background to my story. I left school – Ysgol Dyffryn Aman in Ammanford back in 2011, and attended Coleg Sir Gar in 2012 studying Creative i-Media (Interactive Multimedia) – sound & video editing, flash animation etc.

I then left Wales for work reasons and moved to England in July of 2013 shortly after leaving college. I lived with my grandparents for a few months while I tried to find a place of my own. Unfortunately, I could not find much work until I stumbled upon the Prince’s Trust programme.

So during 2014, I was on the Prince’s Trust programme based out of Newton Rigg College just outside of Penrith, and as part of this programme I was required to do a work placement with a local organisation. I decided that I wanted to do my work placement with Eden FM Radio, a local community radio station serving Penrith & the Eden Valley. At the time they were broadcasting online, but shortly after OFCOM granted the station an FM frequency and licence.

It seemed like the perfect fit to me and so I asked the station manager if I could do a placement at the station. To my delight, Eden FM approved my request. I got the chance to do a variety of task ranging from production of programs, research for the sport programme & co-presenting alongside other presenters.

At the end of my placement, I was offered the chance to produce & present my very own show. To this day, I still can’t remember what I called it but never mind. It was the very first time I had ever presented live on the radio and was a surreal experience at the least. At the end of the show, I was offered the opportunity to come back and volunteer for Eden FM. So obviously I agreed, and went on to produce a number of shows including specialist shows like the Noughties Show & hosted Drivetime.

I am extremely thankful to the team at Eden FM Radio for allowing me to volunteer at their station. They supported me in developing my skills in presenting, and producing shows of a high calibre, which still serves me well to this very day. I wish them the absolute best. The station has gone on to be a successful station serving their local community with music, traffic and travel information, informing the public about local events and so much more. They are a shining example of local community radio in the North West of England.

During my time living in Penrith, I also volunteered at Penrith Players. Penrith Playhouse is the only permanent, member run theatre in Penrith, and rely on volunteers to run the venue. I supported one of their productions, Blackadder Goes Forth, as a member of the Stage Crew moving set pieces & elements onto and off stage. This was my first experience of working backstage & supporting a production. It got me thinking about my future aspirations, what I wanted to do with my life, and I decided that I wanted to work in some part of the creative industries. I am thankful to Penrith Players for the experience, as it gave me a real insight into productions and the amount of work that is put into making a play a reality.

In 2017, I decided to move back to Wales and volunteered with a local theatre company to build up some experience in technical theatre. I built up experience in sound, lighting & stage management having worked on 2 successful productions as lighting desk operator and assistant stage manager. The experiences have served me well to help build up a portfolio of work.

Over the last couple of years, I have volunteered with Time to Change Wales. This is the first national campaign to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems. As someone who has mental health problems, and has faced stigma and discrimination, I felt that it was the right thing to speak out about my experiences.

As a result of volunteering I have had the opportunity to deliver anti-stigma talks at organisations and groups across South Wales, including at the Suicide and Self Harm Prevention Workshop organised by Public Health Wales in Swansea. In addition, I have spoken at Singleton Hospital, YMCA Swansea and Cardiff University. I have also spoken on a BBC Wales Live programme about my experiences of being bullied and discriminated against.

I have also taken the time to engage in interests that suit me. In 2019, I volunteered at Swansea Pride as a Parade Volunteer supporting the event. Also, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Insomnia Gaming Festival in Birmingham, one of the biggest gaming events in the country, featuring major YouTubers such as Call Me Kevin, WillNe etc.

It was during Swansea Pride that I met Mark & Nia Jermin from Jermin Productions. I started talking to them about my interest in technical theatre & other aspects of the industry. I got in contact a couple of months later and asked if there were any openings on any upcoming productions. I thought that it would be a long shot, but my patience paid off. In November 2019, I was given the opportunity to work on Jermin Productions’ Cinderella South Wales Tour as a Follow Spot Operator & Swing Technician.

Basically to sum up, a Follow Spot Operator is someone that operates a light called a Follow Spot (used to follow key cast members on stage). A Swing Technician is someone that works across all areas of the production & supports the different areas e.g. stage management, set building, pyrotechnics etc.

Looking back to when I was going through school & college, I don’t think I would ever have had the confidence to have been part of such a major touring production. I am forever grateful to Jermin Productions for giving me that opportunity, which has led on to exciting projects, which at some point I will come around to working on. Unfortunately, due to the current Coronavirus outbreak those projects have had to be put on hold for the foreseeable future.

I wrote a blog post about my experiences of working on Cinderella for Jermin Productions which you can find here

Keeping myself motivated throughout the current Covid-19 outbreak has been a monumental task, something that I found exceedingly difficult. This crisis has definitely taken a toll on me personally, having lost 4 months’ worth of work in the blink of an eye, losing a friend to the virus and feeling exceedingly anxious about the current situation. But, despite the situation, I have been keeping myself busy. I am forever grateful to the work that key workers from every industry are doing to keep our nation running, especially through an unprecedented time in our country’s history. From NHS workers to carers, police officers to supermarket workers. The list goes on. Thank you to everyone. Theatres & technicians will come back, actors & actresses will rise up and act again, and everyone from every area of the arts & entertainment industry will come back to give amazing performances. Until the time comes when this virus goes, I will carry on keeping myself positive and busy.

To finish up, I am grateful once more to the following companies & organisations for their support and helping me to develop as a person:

  • Eden FM Radio – for giving me my first chance in radio. Special thanks to Lee Quinn, Martin Cowin, Ben France & Andy Neen. Also special thanks to Zoe Badder for all your help and letting me shadow you on your shows.
  • Penrith Players – for giving me my first voluntary opportunity in technical theatre
  • Get The Chance – for featuring my blogs. Special thanks to Guy for always believing in me.
  • Jermin Productions – for giving me my first paid opportunity on Cinderella, special thanks to:
    • Mark Jermin – Director
    • Nia Jermin – Director
    • Ollie Gordon-Rump – Lighting Supervisor
    • Mark Jones – Production Manager
    • Grace Bilsborough – Deputy Stage Manager
    • Luke Jones – my fellow partner in crime (Second Follow Spot Operator)
    • Every cast & crew member on the production, too many names to write down

I hope to work with Jermin Productions on their next production – Beauty and the Beast, hopefully coming this Winter 2020 conditions permitting.

Thank you for reading my blog and hope that it has given you an insight into my life & why I carry on volunteering.

I hope you all stay safe and well and remember to stay home during this crisis & protect our beloved National Health Service.

Connor

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