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Keep Calm

Staying Healthy and Fit: An Actor Exercises

Keep CalmWelcome back for our second part on health and fitness on the job.  In the last installment, I gave a very general overview of two of the three aspects I wanted to discuss, eating and sleeping. I did that on purpose, saving exercise for last, because if you get those first two concepts right, everything else becomes so much easier! But not giving them their due could result in wasted hours in the gym, poor results, and frustration.  And now without further ado…

Exercise on the Road

Or ship, or dinner theatre in the mountains of Alaska…

Many of you know that I’m a certified personal trainer as well as being an actor. So, here’s a chance for me to combine those two passions. I’ll start with a couple of caveats.

Number one, I don’t know anything about dance. My dance training ended…a long time ago. If you are a dancer, then you probably know what your body needs and when. Any advice or methodology I recommend going forward should be measured against what you know your body, and your job, requires.

Number two, I’m not a doctor nor a physical therapist. If you have an injury, you need the guidance of qualified professionals before considering anything I may suggest.

And number three, “fit” doesn’t mean “skinny.” Fitness truly comes in all shapes and sizes. The word fit means “able to do a task.” That’s it. Nothing more.

When I design an exercise program, it’s always tailored to the individual I am designing for. What I am offering now is a basic template, that I feel all exercise programs should include, and I will provide examples. You can use the template to create your own fitness map that can be followed in a gym, a park, or a hotel room.

Basic Human Movement

If there’s one thing you can count on it’s this: that the fitness industry doesn’t always agree with itself. There’s lots of “this is the right/only way to exercise,” coupled with “if you’re not following the grass, berries and bear meat diet then why are you bothering?” What I’m about to present however, is almost universally agreed upon in the industry.

The basic human movements are the push, pull, squat, and hinge movements. Some coaches offer a few others, like the loaded carry (where you carry something heavy for a predetermined distance), rotation/anti-rotation (what you probably know as core work), and ground work (like crawling, rolling, tumbling). Good workout programs are built around these movements done in different planes of motion (horizontal, vertical, sagittal, transverse…eh, did I lose anyone?). I’ll break it down.

1. THE PUSH. Easy enough, a push is when you exert force on an object in an attempt to get it away from you. Any pressing movement (bench press, leg press, overhead press) is a push. Pushes can be done in different planes, a horizontal push can be a push-up or a bench press (your body is horizontal), while a vertical push would be an overhead shoulder press. Pushing is one of the first things we learn to do as infants, as we push ourselves up from the ground to learn to crawl.

earthdowns

2. THE PULL. A pull is when you exert force on an object in an attempt to bring the object closer to you. Examples include the pull-up (bringing your body close to a high bar), the machine let pull-down (bringing the bar down to your chest) and the row (which is a horizontal pull). After we have learned to push, we learn to pull as infants, it’s part of learning to stand and walk.

3. THE SQUAT. A squat involves two major components, a maximal hip flexion and a maximal knee flexion, so that your pelvis and torso are closer to the ground. There are many arguments for the correct depth, but some basic guidelines I always give are: have the angle of your shins match the angle of your torso (see picture), don’t allow your knees to cave in toward each other (called a valgus knee), and in general, don’t allow your knees to pass beyond your toes. I say in general for many reasons, the most prominent is that everyone’s body, limb length and flexibility are different. Squats are easy to learn but may take a lifetime to master. Squats can be weighted with a weight in front of you or resting across the back of your shoulders, or unweighted, using only your body weight as resistance.

squats4. THE HINGE. Like the squat, the hinge has maximal hip flexion, but has minimal knee flexion. If you bend over to pick something up off the floor, you are most likely in a hinge position. The hinge is an extraordinarily powerful movement, as there is great untapped strength in the pelvic girdle (don’t giggle). Most professional athletes know that true power is generated in the hips, and the hinge is an excellent way of training overall strength. The most popular form of hinging is the deadlift, which involves pushing your hips behind you, picking up a weight (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell) from the floor and raising it waist high, while maintaining a tight core and a neutral spine. Like the squat, it is easy to learn but may take a while to master.

bend snd snap meme

5. THE OTHER STUFF. With all due respect to the importance of these moves, for the sake of space, I must move quickly through them. From the beginning of mankind, we have carried heavy things. There are many variations of carries: the farmer walk, the suitcase carry, the waiter walk. These are excellent choices to increase your own work capacity. Rotation/anti-rotation exercises include wood choppers, moving planks, body rows. Groundwork can be tumbling, rolling, bear crawling.

Thanks for That, but What Do I Do With It?

Right. A theatre job can actually be a great time to “get in shape,” whatever that means to you. If you’re already strong and fit, maybe your goal is to be stronger. Or maybe you’d like to lose a few pounds. Or maybe you’ve never seriously exercised and want to start. I say this is a great time for two reasons: the first, you are likely away from home and away from the distractions of your day-to-day life (like friends, a day job, your favorite TV show on the DVR); the second, once your show is running, you have an insane amount of free time. Seriously, we work about 30 hours a week in theatre. What else are you going to do with all that time?

Whether or not you are an experienced gym-goer, take a look at the chart below. I’ve listed examples of the basic movements, pick one or two from each category, decide on a set and rep range (if you’re a beginner, start with one set of ten repetitions, and build from there as you feel you can), and go to work. When you’re finished with your session, take notes. How do you feel? What was hard/easy/confusing? Are you hungry or did the session suppress your appetite? Repeat the plan 3-4 times a week, resting after every two workouts.

Exercise chartI’m sure some of that will seem like Greek to some of you. Do a thorough Google search on terms you don’t understand, yes, the internet can be a wasteland of misinformation, but there’s good stuff there too. Find the good stuff.

Aren’t I Supposed to Be Running or Something?

I’m not a fan of traditional “cardio,” at least, not as a means to lose weight. I believe the best modality for weight loss is through diet and strength training. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to exercise your cardiovascular system. Pick your jam (running, elliptical, cycling, walking, swimming) and get that heart rate up.

Admittedly, that’s about as general as it gets. I offer it as an idea, a map if you will, for the person who doesn’t know where to begin or maybe isn’t sure what’s missing from their own regime. As always, approach this work with respect, injury comes when we disrespect our own intuition.

I mean, you could always hire a trainer…

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potter

What’s Going Down in London Theatre?

After last month’s  2017 Tony Awards in New York, we thought it would be interesting to see what is hot over in the London theatre scene a few  months after the super exciting Olivier Award winners were revealed at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Of course, there is more than enough to fill multiple blog posts but here is a selection of the hottest tickets in town!

The big winners on the night of the Olivers included Amber Riley for Best Actress in a Musical (Dreamgirls)–and a simply phenomenal live performance of “And I Am Telling You” at the awards–and a new adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma, which took home Best Revival and Best Actress for Billie Piper.

potter

But there was one production that quite simply swept the board and its popularity is reflected in the speed with which tickets are flying out of the box office. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts One & Two) won an incredible, record-breaking total of 9 awards, including Best New Play, Best Actor, Best Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Director. The plays are taking the capital by storm, soon to transfer over to Broadway’s Lyric Theater in Spring 2018. The buzz is already huge!

If we’re going to talk about a huge theatrical buzz, then we have to discuss Angels in America at the National Theatre. I, for one, sat in the online queue for over 2 hours when tickets were first released and was lucky enough to get tickets for this July. The two-part play runs until mid-August and is completely sold out, aside from ballot tickets. With a cast featuring Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey, Denise Gough, and Andrew Garfield, and very favorable first reviews, this is another play that is dominating London theater headlines.

Sticking to plays for the moment, a new production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Harold Pinter Theater also recently excited the capital’s critics with 5 stars all round. Closing at the end of May, it featured Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill in the lead roles and both actors were praised for their gripping performances. Staunton’s interpretation of the infamous Elizabeth Taylor film role was labelled by The Independent as “one of the greatest feats of acting […] witnessed”.

Indeed Imelda Staunton is working her way through many of the most desirable roles for mature female actors. After winning the Olivier Award for Best Actress in 2013 and 2016 for Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and Rose in Gypsy respectively, she has been cast to star as Sally in the new revival of Follies at the National Theatre, opening in August 2017. This blogger has been fortunate enough to secure tickets for this exciting new production and will report back!

Royal_National_Theatre_4

So, what else is hot in the West End musicals world? Well, it’s definitely the year for the dance musicals. After highly praised runs in Paris and on Broadway, An American in Paris opened at the Dominion Theatre in March earlier this year. With a sumptuous score by Ira and George Gershwin, the musical is headed by the original Broadway stars, Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. After a series of fantastic reviews and tickets flying out of the doors, it was recently announced that the show will be extended until January 2018.

Another dance-heavy musical recently revived to great praise is the toe-tapping 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. You cannot walk through London or take a trip on the tube without spotting a poster or advertisement for this high-energy production. Sheena Easton has been cast as the vain, prima donna Dorothy Brock, and many of the routines promoted on national television have been quite simply stunning. Well worth a watch, by all accounts!

Finally, the latest London revival of a class dance musical is On the Town, featuring the music of the incomparable Leonard Bernstein. Directed and choreographed by the Olivier-Award-winning Drew McOnie, the show has recently opened for a short two-month run at the lovely Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. In such a stunning, summer venue, 1949 New York City comes to life in a celebration of dance and song.

With so much to see and admire on London’s West End stages, what else would you want to be doing this summer?!

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Pillow

STAYING HEALTHY AND FIT, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE

Performers of any kind rely on their bodies. Whether they are dancing, singing, or acting the most dramatic roles, a performer needs access to their abilities and their emotional life. And if I’m being wholly honest, there is an aesthetic need as well. Actors come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want to play Superman, you must look the part. But no matter your physical type, there is one need that should be addressed before all others: your health.

As performing artists, we’ve chosen a difficult path, one often laden with long hours, little rest, constant practice and training, for what at times can be little reward. To survive in this environment, and hopefully thrive, you must have your health, and today we’re going to talk about maintaining your health when you’re away from home. Like the song says, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

Casino gigs = buffets!
Casino gigs = buffets!

BEFORE YOU GO

Let’s start with the notion that you’ve booked a job—congratulations! You are about to be paid for that thing your parents always said would never pay. Some things to think about, regarding your health:

WHERE ARE YOU GOING? Perhaps obvious, but what’s the climate like: cold, hot, humid, rife with allergens, rainy? You’ll need to be prepared not only with the right clothing but perhaps the right medications. When it comes to health, I think breathing is pretty important.

WHAT’S YOUR HOUSING LIKE? A lot of the same stuff, is it air conditioned/heated well, newer/older (old houses hold allergens and mold like it was their job), do you have your own room? That could matter when it comes to rest and sleep.

WHAT HEALTH AND FITNESS OPTIONS ARE IN THE AREA? Is there a gym nearby (and is membership complimentary to company members)? Or maybe there’s a school with access to a track, or a park. If you have space, you can exercise, even if there’s not a gym for miles.

ONCE YOU’RE THERE

You’ve arrived at the job and been shown to your housing. Could be a hotel, a shared apartment, a private room in a house, or a cabin on board a cruise ship. Leaving the last option for later, we’ll start with shared spaces.

1. IF YOU ARE SHARING A KITCHEN:

This is the most likely scenario. You’ll have limited space for your own groceries, perhaps even marked out clearly in your cabinets and refrigerators. Shop wisely, perhaps share certain staples (oils, condiments, kitchen supplies, etc.). And while we’re in the kitchen, let’s spend a moment on food shopping in general: The healthiest food options are located on the outside aisles of supermarkets, produce, dairy, meats (including fish and chicken), and usually whole grain breads. I won’t veer off into “this diet vs. that diet,” but most likely, no matter what dietary philosophy you choose, the food you want is located here. You might want to adopt an “80/20” rule, meaning you do 80% of your shopping on the outer aisles and 20% from the aisles within. It’s a good way to eat healthy yet not feel wholly deprived when you can’t enjoy the occasional bag of Oreos.

I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…
I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…

2. IF YOUR MEALS ARE PROVIDED FOR YOU:

This likely means you are working on a cruise ship, or perhaps a dinner theatre (where certain meals could be provided). On a ship, the food may be repetitive but at least there will be nutritious options (remember it’s in your employer’s best interest to have you healthy), as well as the standard high-caloric fare. Crew members on ships often work incredibly long hours, so the provided meals can be high in calories, and a calorie is just a unit of energy, so the workers can make it through their shifts. See my recent posts on Cruise Ship Life for more information. Dinner theatres can often provide one meal per performance day, and that meal is usually…uh, dinner.

3. IF YOU HAVE NO KITCHEN, BUT ARE GIVEN A PER DIEM:

Well, this gets tricky. If you don’t know, per diem (“per day”) is money given to you to cover costs of meals and/or housing (if you are on a National Tour). This can seem like a large sum of money, but you’ll find quickly that single housing in A-list markets (think Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles) can often be more than your per diem for the week, leaving nothing for meals. That’s a conversation for another post, however. Some tours pick up the housing and give you a smaller per diem for food, let’s say that number is $350.00 per week, $50.00 a day. You can certainly do it, but you’ve got to be smart about it. Yes, fast food is more affordable. Yes, you can choose healthy (healthier) options from the menu. But trust my experience on this, it gets old FAST. Per Diem is often built around a formula of (using a $50 per day format) of a “10-dollar breakfast, 15-dollar lunch, and 25-dollar dinner.” My suggestion to you, for lifestyle and weight management, reverse these numbers, or at least the caloric values. There’s an old gym adage that goes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” This way you are consuming more calories earlier in the day and gradually tapering off as the day ends. This is good for keeping you energized but not over full before a show, and gives you more opportunities to burn calories as the day goes on. Plus, dinner menus are always more expensive than breakfast or lunch options, so your money will go farther. Oh yeah, and don’t eat garbage after a show. It’s so tempting! But if you must eat, make it reasonable—a protein shake or bar, a small sandwich—stay away from burgers and fries at 11pm, they are not your friends. Consuming 1,000 empty calories within an hour of going to sleep is a surefire way to gain unwanted weight.

“Rob, isn’t this post about staying healthy while working a theatre job? Why all that space on food?” Ah, you’ve seen right through me. While there are two more elements to cover, let me say this very simply: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. Get that right, everything becomes easier. Keep doing it wrong, and you might be wasting all your hard work in the gym.

SLEEP!!

Of equal importance to nutrition is sleep, or rest. The body’s natural processes operate at maximum efficiency during periods of rest, not exertion. You don’t build muscle while you exercise, exercise creates the condition that asks the body to build the muscle, which happens while you are asleep. Ever notice that the prescription for any illness or injury almost always involves rest? The body wants to “right” itself, sometimes the best thing we can do to help, is simply get out of the way.

PillowSleep recommendations are very simple: aim for 8 hours a day, and try to have those hours be the same hours every day. I know many of us are night owls, we finish a performance sometimes exhausted, but sometimes energized and needing time to wind down, or even go out and celebrate. That’s all fine, just allow for recovery. I’m not as young as I once was (I was 23, uh…23 years ago), so I can’t stay out all hours eating and drinking and expect to be a normal functioning adult the next day. Maybe you can, but I promise you, that bill will eventually come due. SLEEP. Protect yourself. Your body and your voice will thank you.

There are 168 hours in a week. You might spend five of them exercising.  But the other 163 hours are actually much more important. Eat right, and sleep right.

Next time I’ll finish up this article with suggestions for exercise in whatever environment you’re in, because I’m helpful like that. And MODEST!

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highschoolmusical.featured image

Top 10 Roles for Teenagers in Musicals

Photo Credit: RichardBH via Creative Commons License 2.0
Photo Credit: RichardBH via Creative Commons License 2.0

When we think of the best roles in a musical for a teenager, our thoughts often immediately turn to shows such as High School Musical, Hairspray, Bugsy Malone, Fame, or Grease. These musicals are brilliant for a range of multi-age teenage roles, with large casts and plenty of scope for principal, supporting, and ensemble parts. They are also immensely fun and frequently performed.

However, what about key roles for teenagers in musicals that are not specifically targeted at 11-19 year olds? Here, we have put together a list of just some of the exciting parts for teenagers out there and how they cater to particular strengths, be it ballet dancing, challenging vocals, or comic timing.

  1. Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family

Starting off with a modern show that opened on Broadway in 2010, Wednesday Addams is a great character role in this comically dark musical. Wednesday, an 18-year-old girl, is smart, temperamental, and impulsive. It is a great quirky, character role, also requiring strong vocals. Her song “Pulled” is an offbeat, comic solo that is exciting for any young actress to get her teeth in to.

  1. Pugsley Addams in The Addams Family

Similarly, Wednesday’s younger brother, Pugsley Addams, is a mischievous adolescent with a dark, macabre sense of humor. He takes delight in being tortured and forms a strong double act with his sister. A real treat for a keen young character actor! This role requires strong, comic timing and his solo “What If” reflects this.

  1. Chava in Fiddler on the Roof

Depending on the playing ages in this show, Chava’s sisters Tzeitel and Hodel are often played by actresses older than teenagers. However, Chava is the youngest daughter, and she must have a sweet innocence about her that is truly captured by a late teenager. Leaving her family and religion to follow her heart, the actress playing Chava must be a strong actress and dancer, as she features heavily in the dream ballet, “Chavaleh (Little Bird)”.

Photo Credit: Linda Hartley via Creative Commons License 2.0
Photo Credit: Linda Hartley via Creative Commons License 2.0

 

  1. Billy in Billy Elliot

The role of Billy is a dream part for any teenage boy who is an all-rounder, but excelling particularly in dance. Although, at the beginning of the show, Billy cannot dance at all, by the end he must be able to perform complicated ballet and tap routines with assurance and a definite wow-factor. There are several dance solos, as well as singing solos, and the musical is carried by this talented teenager. Natural comic timing is also a must, as is a convincing northeast English accent (check out our YouTube clips of the show, or look up clips of the recent Sting musical, The Last Ship).

  1. Michael in Billy Elliot

If you’re going to look at the role of Billy in this heart-warming, funny musical, you should also think about the role of Michael. Like Billy, Michael must also be a talented dancer, performing dance duets with Billy (check out “Expressing Yourself”, it’s a hoot!). Michael is the supporting, comedy foil and his comic timing and performance must be spot on. Like Billy, a convincing northeast English accent is needed – a good challenge for any strong performer.

  1. Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd

Although the age of Tobias (Toby) varies between teenager and young adult in differing productions of this classic Sondheim musical, since the 2007 Tim Burton film, it is more commonly played by a mid-teen in modern productions. Toby is a victim of circumstance and deeply affected by the death and gore he sees around him. He must have a strong tenor singing voice and effective stage presence to wreak his revenge on Sweeney Todd at the end of the show.

  1. Liesl Von Trapp in The Sound of Music

Liesl is the eldest daughter of Captain Von Trapp and has a playing age of 16. She encounters the common problem of many teenagers—believing herself to be in madly in love, but is she really? Liesl must show responsibility and authority with her brothers and sisters, yet portray a naivete and innocence in her relationship with Rolf and her understanding of the grown-up world. Liesl is a strong singer and dancer

  1. Fredrika Armfeldt in A Little Night Music

Fredrika is a great part for a young to mid teen with strong, confident vocals that reflect her innocence and youth. She is inquisitive and intuitive, enjoying touching scenes with her grandmother, Madame Armfeldt. She misses her actress mother, who is touring the country, and her naïve take on the world of an actress is reflected in the song “The Glamorous Life”. This song is often sung as a solo for auditions/performances (great choice for a young female teen), but within the musical it features more characters.

Photo Credit: Siena College via Creative Commons License 2.0
Photo Credit: Siena College via Creative Commons License 2.0

9 & 10. Jack and Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods

This fabulous musical offer great opportunities for two interlinking teenage lead roles. Jack, reluctantly instructed to sell his beloved cow, Milky White, must deal with the wrath of the giant when he plants the magic beans given to him by the Baker. Meanwhile, Little Red Riding Hood learns about the dangers of her innocent, friendly nature when she meets the cunning wolf. Both roles are incredibly fun and fast-paced. Like most Sondheim musicals, they require strong vocal ability and the two characters have solos, but also complicated multi-vocal arrangements.

Bonus Extras!

Baby June & Baby Louise in Gypsy

If you are slightly younger than the ages required for the roles above, why not look at these parts?

The roles of Baby June and Baby Louise are great, fun roles for two talented youngsters. The playing ages are 8-10 and 10-12 respectively and perfectly suit young, cherubic looking teenagers. The eldest sister Louise loves her sister deeply but is painfully shy as a performer. This needs to come through in her performance and the role requires strong acting skills, as well as confident vocals and (deliberately wooden) dancing.

In contrast, Baby June is a confident, extrovert performer, having been groomed extensively by her mother. She loves her sister but knows that her role is to get out there and perform. Vocally, she needs to have a strident, babyish voice, and the stage presence to lead a staged, dance routine. Baby June also needs to be able to perform gymnastic tricks.

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Wait - those aren't cell towers?

Cruise Ship Entertainment Pt 2: A Few More Tips

Avast! (Somebody stop me…) We’re back for more Life Upon the Wicked Sea…Stage. In the previous installment, we looked at the kinds of shows and entertainers you would find on a cruise ship; now we’re going to examine what life is like onboard.

This is where you really must decide if you are cut out for this kind of work. My castmates sign contracts that basically say for seven months, they will live on the ocean, on this boat. In a tiny room. And I mean tiny. It may be private, with its own private bath, or you may share a bathroom, or you may even have a roommate in your tiny little space. Frankly even if you have a single cabin, you still live on top of everyone else. And you eat ship food. Some cruise lines allow entertainers to eat (and drink) with the guests, they even encourage it, to provide a more fun guest experience. Others do not allow this, and you are for the most part resigned to eat in what’s known as the Crew Mess (it’s a military term for crew cafeteria). The food you eat may be fine, or it may not, but your biggest complaint may be that it’s THE SAME. Same stuff, different day.

The lifestyle and rules, of course, vary from company to company. Along with dining privileges, you may have what is commonly referred to as “guest status,” meaning that basically you can behave like a guest if you are dressed appropriately, behaving reasonably, and not interfering with a paying guest’s experience. So you can go out and sunbathe, enjoy the pools, hot tubs, buffets, sometimes an adult beverage, if that’s your thing…but if you don’t have guest status, you may find these experiences are few and far between. Something to consider in the contract negotiation phase.

dog mai tai

In most theatrical productions, your cast becomes your temporary (sometimes permanent) family. On a ship, it’s not only the cast, but the crew who run the everyday ship operation, who are also part of that family. And they are from other countries, other cultures, in fact the American percentage of crew members is usually small. On my ship we have representatives from 6 of the 7 continents (I don’t think there are any Antarcticans…). And I’m sure all cruise companies are the same.

A quick note on the non-performing crew—these people work very hard, very long hours. The average crew member here works 80 hours a week, without complete days off. Yes, there are laws that protect them from employer abuse, but in general they work…a lot. And the clear majority of them are very, very good at their jobs. They should be applauded, appreciated, and respected for their work ethic, dedication, and attitude.

I mentioned laws. Each company has their own rules of conduct, their own employee guidelines, but that’s not all you have to contend with, you must deal with Maritime Law. Maritime Law is the law that covers the oceans, the rules and codes that are common to almost all sailors of any nationality. These laws are born in the military, and though we as performers did not join any armed service when we agreed to perform in “Those Fabulous 50’s” aboard the “SS PartyAllNight”, most of the ship leadership (called the Steerage Committee) has some military background. And we all will want that, and appreciate that.

There’s a lot of rules: places you can’t go, foods you can’t bring on board, number of people in a particular area…yeah, it can seem extreme. But I always feel the answer to your inevitable question of “Why?” is simply this:

5000 PEOPLE ON A TIN CAN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.

iceberg

That’s a lot of people (and the approximate total of the ship I work on, including crew). What if something goes wrong? Power failure? Missing person? Terrorist attack? Yeah, we want some people with real skill and real training to take the lead. Incidentally, all crew members have responsibilities when it comes to safety duties. Typically, the performers have jobs like organizing and keeping the guests as calm and comfortable as possible, while people with more expertise man the lifeboats and ready the evacuation, if necessary.

Do you know what the most common and potentially crippling safety event on board a cruise ship is? It’s called gastroenteritis. Which means a really bad stomach bug, which could affect hundreds of people if not managed properly. It’s not the Titanic, but it’s bad news none the less.

So that’s why there are so many rules; it’s just too large a population in too small a space to not have a very solid structure in place. Sometimes the rules may not make sense to you, but trust me, they are in place for a reason.

Earlier I mentioned that I would talk about taking care of yourself on board a ship. First, you need to know your ship’s itinerary, that is, where you’re going. I’m on a Caribbean cruise– Eastern one week and Western the next, and the home port is Florida, so I’m typically in a warm to hot climate. That means when I am in my cabin or other indoor areas, I’m breathing recycled air, and living in air conditioning. Some people are very sensitive to air conditioning and find it may affect their singing voice. To counteract this (and the feeling of cabin fever), try to spend as much time out in the fresh air as you can. You face a similar problem on an Alaskan cruise, but in reverse, you’ll walk into heated rooms that may dry you out. Know where you’re going and prepare as best you can, by bringing all your secret remedies for vocal issues.

Photo Credit: Tim Moreillon via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tim Moreillon via Creative Commons License.

Remember when I called the ship a tin can? Well, it’s steel if I’m being fair. It’s steel underneath the carpet, underneath the laminate floor, and underneath most of the stages. For dancers, that means the floors aren’t forgiving (or “sprung” if that means anything to you), so you must take care of your body and allow lots of recovery time for demanding shows. Foam rollers, massage tools, all become necessities.

You should also keep in mind that there is no union jurisdiction on board a ship. It’s not against my union’s rules to be here, but I don’t enjoy any of the benefits of working in a union house, such as accrued health insurance weeks, pension contributions, and representation in my workplace. I’m essentially on my own out here, and though I trust my employer, I joined Actors’ Equity for a reason.

And of course, we should acknowledge the incredible impracticality of the gig. You’re often in the middle of the ocean, so you know, there’s no Taco Bell run at midnight. Out of toothpaste? Good news, there’s a crew store; it doesn’t have your brand, oh well. Really missing your girlfriend at home? Sure, you can call her, but phone calls from the ocean are expensive, if they’re even possible. And there’s no streaming Netflix out here, the internet isn’t very powerful and it costs a lot of money. So your creature comforts are very limited. Hardly the end of the world, but don’t underestimate the value of simply walking through a grocery store, eating at the Olive Garden, or seeing a current movie.

Wait - those aren't cell towers?
Wait – those aren’t cell towers?

With all that said, there’s a ton of advantages to jobs like these. You might be pushed to your limits as a performer, and as you meet those limits, they expand. You’ll travel to places you might not otherwise. You’ll meet amazing people from different cultures. And yeah, these jobs usually pay quite well, better than most standard theatre jobs at least. Your housing and food is provided, you can save the vast majority of your salary, and you should. It’s a perfect opportunity to build that cushion we all need to pursue less-paying opportunities that may be more artistically satisfying.

If I were pressed, I’d say that the cruise ship is a young person’s game. I’m married with a family, and they’re not here, and that’s tough. Sure, I get great benefits to share with them, but the cost is my absence from their lives for a brief while. My job requires someone of “a certain age,” but in general I think the younger crowd can enjoy this experience the most, as typically there’s not as many attachments to home for them.

The work here is often fun, sometimes a grind, but overall it’s a very well-paid vacation. If you want to save some money for your move to a bigger market, it may be ideal for you. But if you are someone who struggles with too much structure or a perceived lack of freedom, it may not be in your future. In either case, safe travels, and may the wind be always in your sails.

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