Theatre + Mental Health and My Journey

Published on Sunday, May 24th, 2020 08:36:18 AM

Theatre + Mental Health and My Journey

Published on Sunday, May 24th, 2020 08:36:18 AM


Welcome to my blog


In this article I'll go over my life story and journey and how I got involved in theatre, radio, events, and raising awareness around mental health. I have written 3 blogs before around these subjects before, but I thought it would be nice to piece everything together into one big article.


Please note that this article contains material for some that may be upsetting or triggering.


To truly understand my story, you need to know a bit about me to start with.


So where to start? I am originally from Glanamman in Carmarthenshire but have lived in England for about 4 years of my life – The Lake District and Oxfordshire. I enjoy walking, listening to music and volunteering in my spare time.

Nowadays I am a freelance theatre technician & event crew – working on theatre productions & live events.


Now let us go right back – back to when I was in primary school.


When I was in primary, I was bullied. Bullied by pupils and even some teachers. I lost confidence in myself, other people, and teachers who I thought were meant to be role models and someone to look up to. I withdrew and became isolated, and this was just the start.


In secondary school, things got worse. People would say horrible comments to me telling me to harm myself or to end my life. It made me feel very depressed and isolated, and I felt that I was not worth living. School reports were just a small fragment of an indicator that things were going wrong in my life. I noticed (so did my family) a drop in my performance. I could not face going into school as I did not want to face the torrent of bullying that I was receiving.


This made me feel worse, I felt like a failure and that I was never going to amount to anything at the rate I was going. At this point, I knew that there was something wrong in my mind but did not comprehend what was wrong until years later.


One of the messages I want to point out is:


It is important to speak about mental health if you are struggling. You should never have to suffer in silence!


I spoke to my family about what I was going through, but they did not know what to do at the time or how to react. It was a completely new and unexpected thing for them to deal with. Some of my friends at the time were supportive, but slowly they showed their true colours and drifted away from me. I lost trust very quickly in people and my confidence dropped like a sack of potatoes.


Now I want to point out something. Even though I had an extremely negative experience in school, I still persevered and left school with 5 GCSE Grade A* to C. Throughout my school life, I was proud to have become involved in several extra-curricular activities and clubs including representing the school at the Urdd Eisteddfod and representing pupils on both School council & Year representatives groups.


Moving on to college now.


I left school and went to Coleg Sir Gar in 2012. I studied Creative Interactive Multimedia (video editing, sound editing, animation etc). I had a good experience in college, as there was a lot of support available to students. For example, there were student support & liaison officers, a dedicated counsellor, and mentors on hand to talk to with any concerns or problems.


I felt that I was listened to and that the college wanted to support its students. There was empathy from staff that I had not experienced in the past. In my short time in college (I was only there for a year) I was involved in many different things on campus including being elected as Vice President for Activities on the Student Union. I also represented the college as a Student Ambassador.


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.


But not all my time in Penrith was positive. In April 2014 while living in Penrith, I was struggling with my mental health suffering numerous breakdowns and panic attacks. I really needed to speak to someone about what I was going through, so I went to see my GP who referred me to a psychiatrist.


I can remember to this day the psychiatrist telling me exactly what I had. He diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (sometimes referred to as Borderline Personality Disorder). I will go onto talk about that condition later in this article.


I was referred on to a Community Mental Health Team and prescribed medication. I began to feel that there was a path to recovery ahead, but it was going to be an exceptionally long path. With this newfound knowledge, I finally knew what was wrong in my mind. I am extremely grateful to Penrith’s Community Mental Health team for supporting me through an extremely difficult period in my life.


In December 2014, I decided to work for a large nationwide mobile phone sales company. I enjoyed the work and the interaction with so many people from different walks of life was a great perk of the job.


However, when my mental health affected me, I was not supported by management or even the colleagues I worked with. I hit rock bottom, and when I sought advice from my manager, I was told that I should just “man up” and “deal with it”.


I tried to carry on but 9 months later, I gave up and walked out of the job. Definitely not the best decision I ever made, but it was one that I made to safeguard my mental health before I got to the point of no return.


Now I mentioned earlier about Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. I feel that it’s a good time to share just some of the feelings and behaviours that I have towards people, when I am in a low state of mind.


Some of these feelings can include:


·      Intense emotions that last from a few hours to a few days and can change quickly (for example, from feeling happy and confident to suddenly feeling low and sad)

·      Not having a strong sense of who I am, and can change significantly depending on who I am with

·      I can find it hard to make and keep stable relationships

·      Very uncommonly, I can have very intense feelings of anger, which I can find difficult to control. But this is only when I am in an extremely low state of mind.


Now let’s fast forward 3 years later to 2017.


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.


A year later I decided to start volunteering 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. My journey with Time to Change Wales started when I signed up to take part their training course to become a Time to Change Wales Champion. Two days of learning about the campaign and how to deliver an anti-stigma talk effectively, really helped to develop my public speaking skills. 


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. Most recently I have spoken virtually to staff at St David’s Catholic Sixth Form College in Cardiff about my story.


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.


As someone who is relatively new to the world of technical theatre & drama, I was very excited to work with such a well-renowned company in South Wales. This was such an exciting moment for me as I had never worked on a professional production before. This gave me an opportunity to develop new skills and create connections in the entertainment industry.


Fast forward to November 2019 and it was time to start work on the most ambitious production that I have ever worked on – Cinderella. As with all major productions, first comes the get in. This involves bringing set pieces, costumes, lighting etc – everything that is paramount to a successful production. Then comes assembling sets, rigging lights, preparing costumes for cast & dancers.


As with any production, you need a team & I was very fortunate to have worked with an amazing team of people throughout my time working on Cinderella. Special thanks to everyone at Jermin Productions for being such a supportive company.

Now earlier on, I mentioned a very important role that I held during the production – Follow Spot Operator.


For those that do not know, a follow spot operator operates a specialised stage lighting instrument known as a followspot. A followspot is any lighting instrument manually controlled by an operator during a performance. I worked alongside a second follow spot operator, Luke, where we both had to follow a professionally orchestrated cue sheet and following commands issued by stage management and lighting operations. All in all, the role of a follow spot was something that I had never done before but was a fascinating insight into lighting.


Technical theatre has such an important part to play in the running of a pantomime. There are so many elements involved behind the scenes to ensure a pantomime can run successfully & efficiently. These include the Lighting department, Stage Management, Sound & our Musical team. Without these departments and the people working in them, a pantomime could not exist. All of those elements work hand in hand, very much like parts in a car. Without one of those elements, the production does not work as efficiently.

But we must also pay tribute to the Cast, without the cast a pantomime could not exist either. Technical theatre combined with a cast ensures that a production works successfully and delivers a fantastic performance to the general public.


Last year’s cast thrilled audiences across South Wales and gave amazing performances time and time again.


The cast of Cinderella:

Nicole Seabright – Cinderella

Adam Byard – JJ Buttons

Lewis Brimfield – The Prince

Jordan Bateman – Bree

Ryan Edmunds – Tree

Bethan Searle – Fairy Godmother


Working with this amazing cast was an absolute pleasure & has been a real eye opener to how much work goes on to make a pantomime happen.


I spoke to some of our cast & crew about what they got out of working on Cinderella and their experiences working on a Jermin Productions pantomime. I also asked them what they would say to people wanting to start out in performing arts.


Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I got lots out of Cinderella, experience and social were my main ones! I hadn’t worked on a touring theatre show like this before, and I was really lucky to be offered a job by Jermin Productions. I learnt new ways of doing things, tips and tricks to make things easier and even a few life lessons! Socially, I made so many great friends, people I’d work with for the rest of my life. It can get difficult when you’re working together, living together and sharing rooms, but with Cinderella I didn’t get any of that.

If someone asked me if they should go into Theatre tech, I’d definitely say Yes! It’s good fun and you learn a lot of stuff on the job, so if you have a lot of experience beforehand it doesn’t matter! There’s a lot of variety in this industry, which means you can try out different jobs if you’re not sure what to do.” (Ollie Gordon-Rump, Lighting Operations/LX1 – Cinderella 2019)


“What I got from it? I got a great sense of accomplishment from doing Panto with Mark. It’s my second year working for him and it was an amazing experience. It was personal for me as I got to perform in my hometown and even in the place I went to uni. It was a brilliant cast and they are like my second my family. To work with people who were so dedicated and talented was just exceptional. The script was hilarious and we were allowed to add our personalities in the characters and give it our touch.

I’d say to never give up because if you really want something then keep going. I’m a simple boy from Port Talbot whom acts for living. Anything is possible if you believe. (Ryan Edmunds, Tree – Cinderella 2019)


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.


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 this article 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.