Top variety showcase that shines spotlight on venues

Showzam co-ordinator Chris Pope in the Olympia at Blackpool's Winter Gardens.
Showzam co-ordinator Chris Pope in the Olympia at Blackpool's Winter Gardens.
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To say Showzam! – the 10-day magic and variety festival which comes to Blackpool next month – is an ambitious project is putting it mildly.

There’s an adults-only ball, the Sooty Show, a circus troupe, Latin American ballroom dancing and even a Sing-A-Long Grease night.

It is the resort’s way of trying to get people into town during the February half-term and it has been a tremendous success since it started seven years ago.

More than 25,000 people came through the doors of the Olympia venue in the Winter Gardens alone last year. That’s where the bulk of the free entertainment is, with workshops for anyone who wants to get involved.

There are also bundles of shows for locals and tourists alike to see throughout the 10 days, and for the man who has organised it – Chris Pope from Visit Blackpool – it is the culmination of much hard graft.

“We start planning for Showzam! 18 months before the actual event,” he revealed.

It costs around £150,000 to stage and much of the funding comes from the Art Council.

It is an important event in the local calendar, reckons Chris, not least because it showcases the resort’s beautiful, historical venues.

“There were surveys that showed Blackpool is one of the towns where locals engage with cultural events the least,” explained Chris.

“It was another table where Blackpool came bottom, so what we are trying to do is get both locals and visitors to engage a lot more, because the resort has such a huge history. So a large part of Showzam! is about celebrating our great entertainment heritage and the magnificent venues we have like the Tower Ballroom, the Grand Theatre and the Winter Gardens.

“Blackpool has these wonderful, unique venues and yet some people don’t realise how stunning they are.”

It is also a chance for people just to have a bit of fun.

“The great thing about Showzam! is that people can experience the arts for free,” said Chris.

“We are putting on loads of workshops in the Pleasure Beach and various places in the town centre. The Olympia will be open from 10 in the morning till five at night and my message to the people of Blackpool is come and have a look at what’s going on – it’s a chance to see the town in its best light and you will get to see some of the best performance groups in the UK.”

It sounds as if Chris is a busy man. He is responsible for organising most of the big events in Blackpool’s calendar, from the Illuminations Switch-On to the Air Show, Ride The Lights to the Fireworks Championships.

I ask him how hard it is to get people to Blackpool these days.

“It’s tough, especially with budgets being cut.

“But what we’re trying to do is involve the community a lot more – the idea being that if we get some civic pride within the town, make the people of Blackpool proud of where they live, then word will spread outwards,” he said.

As for Showzam!, it lasts from February 14-23.

A full list of all the shows being staged can be found at www.showzam.co.uk.

Or call Visit Blackpool on (01253) 478222.