Steam engine enthusiast Dan Pratley is 23 and hails from Thetford, Norfolk. Regular visits to the Weeting Steam Engine Rally & Country Show might not at first glance appear to be connected to a career in production, but as will become clear, they played their part in this professional technician’s journey to being a full-time member of staff at Pearce Hire.
Pratley’s passion for the technical aspects of live events began aged 12, when he started taping down cables for his high school’s drama and music productions. A deeper interest developed during his school years and led to him studying Sound Engineering at Access Creative College Norwich.
“I decided not to go to university and instead started work, aged 18, as a technician with Warner Leisure Hotels,” explained Pratley.
“Although a promotion followed, I’d started to feel like I needed a fresh challenge, so I went along to a Production Futures event at Fly By Nite Studios in the Midlands. The atmosphere on the day blew me away. The assembled companies were like a ‘greatest hits album’ of the industry, with so many networking opportunities – I felt it provided a real stepping stone to directly engage with, and learn more about, some of the leading events industry players,” he said.
It was during this event that Pratley spotted a familiar logo, one that he’d seen on the side of some immaculate blue generators at those Weeting Steam Engine Rally & Country Show trips. The logo belonged to Pearce Hire, and Pratley struck up a conversation with MD, Shaun Pearce (fellow steam enthusiast) and Jim Brown (not a steam enthusiast) about possible opportunities with the company.
He is in no doubt that this personal connection was invaluable in shaping his future: “I’m not sure how valuable it is sending out generic, boring CVs that can never show the real ‘you’ to companies who, more often than not, seem to have a standard stated requirement of ‘three years experience’. In this instance, I was able to have that chat with Shaun and Jim and then forward my CV. On that basis, I’m sure the Production Futures events are just as useful to the organisation’s brand partners and supporters as they are to the young people who attend.”
Pratley’s initial conservation with Pearce Hire took place in late 2019, and early the following year he was invited to a further informal discussion about possible opportunities. That meeting abruptly became a Zoom call when COVID-19 struck and the best laid plans of all and sundry were thrown up in the air.
Scrolling forward to July 2021, Pratley left his employed position and took to the road for six months as a freelance touring technician, gaining wider experience and working with, among others, Russell Watson. He takes up the story: “After gaining great experience working on tour, I decided to contact Pearce Hire to see if they had any freelance work available,” Pratley recalled. “They remembered me, and my diary was quickly filled up with testing and maintenance work until, in April 2022, I became a full-time member of staff. It’s been a challenging journey to get where I am, particularly through the pandemic, but thanks to Production Futures, I’ve been able to land a perfect job with an excellent company.”
Looking back on his journey, Pratley is keen to point out to other young people who are considering a career in production that university isn’t the only option, believing that his early hands-on experience was, in many respects, a useful head start. “I would never rule out the possibility of doing a degree at some point in the future, but personally, I’m very glad I took the path I did. As one of the clear beneficiaries of their vision, I’m so grateful for the work that Production Futures has done in connecting young people with our fantastic and dynamic industry.”