Every fortnight in UK Cabaret we will interview leading figures in UK Light Entertainment. Torquay based Martin Berger is a leading figure in the UK Holiday park production and management scene.
Head of Entertainment Parkdean Holidays
I am responsible for the creation of entertainment concepts, shows and subsequent delivery to 500,000 holiday guests and owners per year across 24 UK Holiday Parks. This includes casting, show production, children’s entertainment, talent development, live act booking and all round family entertainment. I head a full time team of 10 production team and a seasonal team of around 120.
1/ How did you get your present job and what is your history in the business?
Following the standard route of music lessons, school performances and talent shows I started my career with The national Youth Theatre of Great Britain in London’s West End. This was the start of my passion for entertainment. Following a successful 15 year performing career in the clubs and holiday centres, a highlight of which was an appearance on TV’s New Faces in 1987, I went on to set up and lead two entertainment departments from the ground up for two national holiday brands.
First I worked as a colleague of Deborah Meaden for 15 years with Weststar Holidays, the latter part of which I was invited to become a shareholder. I was head of entertainment with Weststar until its purchase by the much larger holiday operator Parkdean in 2007. I was invited by Parkdean’s CEO John Waterworth to stay on with the business and develop an in house entertainment department across its 24 park estate. We have since won’ The British Travel Awards UK Holiday Park Operator of the Year’ in three years out of the last four.
2/ What can you tell us about the mentoring side of your job?
I am privileged to be in a position where I continually meet and employ talented newcomers. One of my great passions is to give them as much opportunity and training as possible. Following national auditions the Parkdean Troupers, as they are called, go through an intense three week rehearsal and training period where they are taught a comprehensive package of shows and further develop their performing and presenting skills. A number then go into an act development scheme where they are produced or helped with their own cabaret shows. When they have met a strict quality level of performance they are then invited to take their place amongst other external professional touring live artistes through my mentoring business New Ents. Thus providing a complete professional career path to success and stability.
I have recently also started a record label called ‘New Ents Records’ and we are now actively promoting our some of Troupers with original track releases. For example Vici Jo (an ex Italia Conti student) has already have achieved numerous radio plays and an appearance in the Amazon dance charts and has also been part of a music feature in a major USA music magazine.
Some of our recent Troupers have also achieved great show business milestones. For example Emily Penny starred in the recent tour of West end hit ‘Boogie Nights’ and is about to support The Osmond’s national tour, Carl Tracey is part of the hugely successful children’s band ‘Go Go Go’ currently on Nicolodian. Others have made appearances on Britain’s Got Talent such as Paul Burling or in the case of Adam Ilsley, regular West End appearances. It’s great that they all still keep in touch.
3/ What is the best and worst part of your working life?
The best part is creating great lasting memories for children and families. One of our old guests was Jessie J who I remember used to visit Mullion Holiday park as a child in the 1990’s when I was Ents manager. She always entered the talent shows and was in love with my children’s characters Sid & Lizzie. Whilst I can’t claim to know her personally, she wrote about her experiences at Mullion and how it shaped her music ambitions in her autobiography and once sent me a thank you note for ‘starting her off’ in the talent shows. She even talked about her Mullion memories in a concert at the Eden project last year. I can’t describe how proud that made me feel.
The worst part is when someone signs a contract and then lets you down for short term gain, before they’ve seen what a great and unique opportunity for development you are offering. Fortunately these are in a minority.
4/ How do you think the holiday centre business has changed in recent times?
They have become more modern and forward thinking. In the case of Parkdean they have not been scared to make major investment in high class accommodation and staff training. From an Ents point of view, technology has been forefront in our strive for quality. Every venue in our estate from the smallest to the largest has full computerised led lighting systems, high quality PA systems, screens and even our own Ents intranet for the supply of online media, graphics and support. We also host our own recording studio and video production suite from our central base in Exeter.
Today’s customer wants an entertainment experience that is closer to what they see on TV, great facilities and venues with Wi-Fi. The days of the traditional variety show have given way to more interactive and media based entertainment. That is not to say that variety and live entertainment isn’t alive and well, it’s just presented in a different context compared to say 10 years ago.
5/ Can you describe how you have developed your shows and the careers of your talented cast members?
Our shows really are a team effort. We regularly survey our customers to find out their music preferences, what they watch on TV and their favourite types of entertainment. We hold regular creative meetings with all the Ents teams to enable them to put forward ideas. These are filtered and then we produce the shows and events ready for the following year. Everybody can really take ownership when they have all been part of its creation.
I am passionate about giving performance opportunities to our teams and many learn new skills. It never ceases to amaze me how dancers can start with us, find a voice and then develop great singing technique and vice versa with vocalists learning how to dance. All from being given opportunity. I have always believed if you make what you do ‘good enough’ then good people will come and work for you. That is certainly the case with many of our Troupers who stay with us for many years.
6/ So what is coming up next in the working life of Martin Berger?
It’s a very exciting time for me as we have a wealth of talent in our teams. I have great plans for the expansion of Parkdean entertainment into areas not traditionally associated with Holiday Parks which, I think is probably prudent to keep under my hat at the moment but suffice to say…. watch this space!