“I don’t really know why I’m here,” said poet, singer and entertainer Phil, the only man in the audition room, as he introduced himself. “I’m just here for the craic.”
But there was a clear ambition from the rest of the auditionees attempting to join Team Nick – the entertainment and character crew at the Pleasure Beach.
Now with three teams hosting entertainment and character meet and greet opportunities every day, a rare opportunity had come up for new members to join the team.
Team Nick launched three years ago when the £10.3m Nickelodeon Land opened at the South Shore attraction.
Team manager Jason Taylor said: “From when I first started here, most of the team are still the same – our staff retention is really good – but we do like to refresh it and have had to expand as we now have three teams working in a day.
“We try to make the job as fun as possible, and we want to make visitors come back to the Pleasure Beach – so we make our job different every day.”
To break the ice, and help Jason and his team supervisors Nikky Hatton and Alisha Johnson start to get to know the auditionees, each one was asked to introduce themselves.
At 22, dancer Jenny said she was ‘old, but doesn’t look it’ compared to others there. But she reeled off an impressive CV, including three weeks of dance classes in America.
And the last auditionee to introduce themselves was Chelsea, a performing arts student at Blackpool and The Fylde College, who admitted she was ‘obsessed with anything Spongebob’ – seemingly a sure-fire way to secure the job.
Then the audition, at the Pleasure Beach Arena dance studio, got serious... Well, as serious as an audition to spend part of your days in a foam character suit can get.
But with Team Nick representing a major global brand in the UK, the recruitment process does need to be thorough and the group then took on some characterisation work, with the help of Nikky and Alisha – demonstrating the characteristics needed to portray Dora The Explorer and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Jason said: “ You can be playing each and every character in a day, so you need to do your research – but no matter what else you do, it’s got to be big.
“It’s like a high impact work-out every time, crazy big and over the top.”
From girly seven-year-old Dora, who is always on the lookout for new adventures with her trusty backpack and friend Boots, through to the high-fiving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there are varied challenges to meet.
Each of the 10 auditionees tried out the roles, before being paired up to demonstrate their hosting skills, too. Hosts accompany their famous TV friends on walkabouts and appearances around the Pleasure Beach.
“When hosting, you are the eyes and ears of the character and have to help them through anything they may encounter,” said Jason.
“And you have to know everything about the character’s life – their friends, their home, what they like to do, so you can explain things to the children. For example, I know that Spongebob lives in a fully furnished two-bed detached house under the sea.
“All of the information is in the Team Nick bible.
“We have to always leave people wanting more, after character appearances. The reality is that the person needs their break or to change and move on to the next job – but that’s not what we tell the visitors. So, for example, the Turtles need to go and do their training, or they can’t fight crime properly.”
Some candidates shone in their character performance – while others came to life when hosting and interacting with the characters.
There was also a choreography element to the auditions, where Nikky and Alisha taught them one of Dora’s dances, with the help of the seven-year-old Spanish explorer, who paid a brief visit to the dance studio.
Dancer Jennifer Doolan, 22, travelled from Manchester for the occasion. She said: “I’ve just finished a contract on a job like this and wanted something similar – I love character work, and it would be well worth the commute.
“It was a good audition, a bit different to the usual, but good.”
And 63-year-old Phil Smith, from Warrington, certainly made an impact – as the only man to attend the try out.
He came with Leanne Potter, 21, from Bolton, as they’re both currently appearing in shows at North Pier for the summer.
“I like singing and entertaining, but I’m rubbish at dancing,” Phil said.
“I’m sure my chances are nil, but I guess it depends on whether they want an old singer although I mainly came along with Leanne and she’s a very good dancer.”
Leanne added: “I’ve been in children’s and variety shows, in character suits before, so I’m used to that – I was a big dinosaur and had to do the party dances, I know just how hot and hard work it can be.”
The audition also attracted staff from other departments at the Pleasure Beach. Paige Spencer, 18, and Jemma Bunce, 20, both work in catering.
Jemma is training to be a teacher, and has experience in drama – so the summer job appealed by drawing the two things together.
“I want to be a primary school teacher, but working for Team Nick is a good opportunity for me to work with children as well as using my drama skills,” she said.
Paige added: “I asked when I first came for a job here about Team Nick, but I work in Coasters and even took time off from that to come along.”
It’s clear from the enthusiasm of those who attended that Team Nick is a prestige job –but Jason was keen to stress that there’s a lot of hard work involved, although the rewards are also high.
“When we take on new staff, I like to get them in doing the core of the job, then develop it to add things like singing, and I challenge the team every day,” he said.
“We are pulled from pillar to post, as as well as the day to day job we are always involved in the Pleasure Beach events, like Pleasure Beach Rocks and we have the Extreme night coming up.”
Nikky and Alisha have both helped to develop the team’s work, too.
Nikky said: “ It’s nice when we do the big events, when we get a chance to perform as ourselves – we all have done musical theatre, so we can bring that out, too.”
And although new positions in the team are rare, Jason is always on the look out for potential recruits.
“One of our guys started as a ride operator in Nickelodeon Land,” Jason said.
“I noticed him as he is quirky and unique – as he was letting people through the turnstiles he would never stop dancing but he didn’t get kept on over Christmas and I told him to email me when I was auditioning.
“He was terrified when he started, but now he’s dancing and hosting, and is great in character – he really brings something different to the team.”
Nikky added: “A lot of people now say they want to do things the way he does, and try to follow his style, too.”