Ahoy mateys! (and I sort of hate myself for that). Today we’re going to talk about being a cruise ship entertainer, what the work is like, and how you live on the ocean for months at a time. Of course, every company is different, and I only have experience personally with one certain popular family-themed enterprise, but there are performers here who do have history with multiple cruise line companies, and this is what I’ve learned.
Let’s start with what types of entertainment you will find on a ship. Typically, there are performers who are hired to do “in-house” productions, but you’ll also find stand-up comedians, magicians, jugglers, hypnotists, ventriloquists, musical acts, aerialists, acrobats…sometimes all on one ship! Often you may see an audition notice in Backstage (or any number of audition resources) that will list openings for these kinds of acts, but also many cruise lines use booking agents to find that sort of specific talent. For certain, you will find these companies looking for singers, dancers, and, yes, occasionally actors.
I say occasionally because these companies often produce different themed musical revues, and have little need for legit actors who may or may not sing and dance. In recent years, however, certain companies (I’ll use Norwegian as an example) have begun to produce traditional book shows such as Rock of Ages, Hairspray, Chicago and Mamma Mia! It may be rare that a non-singing actor would be needed, but I suppose it’s not impossible.
In general, the cruise ship performer is a singer/dancer. Disney Cruise Lines and other companies who produce Broadway-style shows, pride themselves on hiring true “triple threats” (actor/singer/dancers), as well as advanced dancers and tumblers for specific jobs.
“Wait, Rob,” you ask, “if they hire triple threats, then how did you get that job?”
I, er, um…moving on!
Auditions for cruise lines are basically like any other audition: nerve-wracking, nightmare-inducing, self-defeating…you get the point. I kid, I kid! (Mostly.) It all depends on the shows being produced. If the company needs powerhouse singers (and many of them do), be prepared to show them your pipes. Though there are companies who do Broadway-style revues, even opera, you’re far more likely to encounter a heavy dose of pop music. Often these shows are dedicated to certain performers or eras in music (say, a Motown revue, the music of Michael Jackson, etc.). The clientele of a cruise ship—well I hate to state the obvious—but they’re on vacation. For the most part, they want to have a week-long party. Fun, energetic music during the day and into the big party nights, with maybe a quieter touch like jazz or standards being sung in a piano bar as the evening winds down. You’re not likely to find a country music review or hip/hop (not impossible, just not likely). So, if you’re auditioning for these jobs, choose your music accordingly, the audition listing will have the instructions.
Now, I’m the last person qualified to give a dancer advice, but here’s my best shot. These dance jobs are heavy jazz, some musical theatre, funk, maybe some hip hop, and contemporary. Not a ton of ballet, definitely no pointe. Also, if you’ve got gymnastic skills or tumbling, show it. The more tricks you can do, the better your chances. Later, when we move to what it’s like on the ship, I have some thoughts on health and maintenance for all performers, but particularly dancers.
Keep in mind that cruise contracts are typically long commitments, averaging 6-9 months in length. There are of course some shorter contracts (like mine currently), but overall, that’s the range.
Let’s now look beyond the audition and get to the actual job. Rehearsals are most often on land at first (it’s just easier, right?), and you move to the ship when it’s time to put it all together. So, you’ve done all you can do on land, now it’s time to do it…at sea!
When I walk to the theatre I perform in on the ship, it looks like a Broadway house. Truly, it’s beautiful, extremely well-maintained, and holds about 1300 people. You’d think it would be located right in the heart of the theatre district, but no, it’s somewhere else…IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.
That’s an obvious statement but think about what it means. We are sailing, the boat is rocking, and there’s often no land in sight (my cruise itinerary alternates between Eastern and Western Caribbean, 7 days each). So when I am on stage, and I take a step toward another actor, the stage is moving underneath me. The floor might not actually be where I anticipate it to be. Think of those old episodes of Star Trek, where the Enterprise is under attack, and the crew is falling all over the place. Okay it’s not normally that bad, but it gives you the idea. And all I do is walk and talk and sing! Imagine if you are a dancer, or a gymnast, and the floor ISN’T WHERE IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE. It’s a weird feeling, no doubt. But, you get used to it, and unless you are in the middle of a storm (when a show may be canceled anyway), it really is no big deal. All shows have contingencies for rough seas, if something is too dangerous to perform, it will likely not be performed.
Other than the venue, it’s no different from doing a show on land. But what about life on the ship? For answers to that and more, check out Part Two of this entry next time!