Plain Sailing, well sometimes!

I am often asked about the best way to get work onboard a cruise ship. Curiously enough I am almost never asked about what to do when you have got your first job working on a luxury liner. It is a very different world out there on the high seas, and it needs to be approached carefully and systematically to ensure that you get booked back again.

I wrote a very tongue in cheek column for the Linking Ring a couple of years ago on this topic. I got some wonderful reactions from pros that were involved in this kind of work. They appreciated how much real information I delivered between the lines in the article and enjoyed the way I turned the topic on its head to achieve my goals.

However, I suspect that I may have been a little oblique for others reading the piece so I decided to remove my tongue from my cheek and retackle the subject in a more straightforward manner. There have been several books published on this topic but I can’t help feeling that they often stressed the obvious at the expense of the practical. I will give you the ‘Nick Lewin Crash Course’ in the next few paragraphs.

Cruise ships are the nightclubs of this era of entertainment. In the old days a performer would schlep around the country to different cities so that he would be able to work to different audiences. Now the ship does the schlepping and the audiences change because of the itineraries. The performer still has to get to his venue of course so sign up for your frequent flyer clubs.

I performed on my first cruise ship in 1969 and have continued to embrace this arena of work ever since. The business has changed greatly recently and the working conditions have improved vastly. The larger cruise ships now contain showrooms that rival your local Performing Arts Center. The sound, lighting and stages are very sophisticated and if you know how to, can be used to dramatically improve your show.

Generally speaking to get a booking on a ship you are going to need to travel two 45-minute shows. It doesn’t mean you will actually get to perform two 45-minute shows but you might. I am writing this column in the Grand Lobby of the Queen Victoria where I was booked to do one show. On a ship your show is usually repeated twice so that early and late seating dinner guests can catch them with ease.

At least, that is how it should have been on this particular three day run. However nothing runs quite that smoothly in real life. As I was going through my tech rehearsal the Production Manager informed me that there had been a magician who had already performed that cruise. He had featured a Torn & Restored Newspaper, which is the closer to my show. I immediately adjusted my show and changed my closing effect to the one from my second show. No problems.

After I finished my shows I was told that in fact they would need me to perform 15 minutes the next night in a variety show. No problem—I can dodge bullets for 15 minutes! However the next day at my tech rehearsal I was informed that the singer had lost her voice and could I do 35 minutes to close the bill. It worked out very well, but the entire business required a great deal of flexibility.

I described this episode in some detail but in verbal shorthand I could just have said ‘Prepare to be flexible.’ Let me run down a few other key ideas keeping them brief and pithy. There are no rules in life only suggestions however I would like to point out that these suggestions are based on quite a bit of experience.

There are certain tricks that have been just done to death on cruise ships. The vast majority of passengers cruise frequently, and they have become very familiar with certain tricks. The Cruise Director (Your Boss) will likely want to scream if he sees a set of Linking Rings, a Card Sword or Baffling Bra. Worst of all is the Bandana/Banana trick, which is now as overdone as a slice of burned toast. Something is really missing from the bit when the surprise element has been removed.

There is nothing wrong with these tricks, of course, but they have become shipboard cliques and should therefore be avoided. One of the very real problems facing a ‘fly on’ magician is that he is very limited in the hand baggage he is allowed to take on the airplane. You have to (often contractually) carry you’re the majority of your props as hand baggage so we become very limited in our choice of material– it has to fit the bag! Therefore some careful thought needs to go into what you perform and how you pack it.

Most of the time you will have an excellent tech crew who will do their very best to help you providing you give them a good written rundown on what you want them to do. You need to be really articulate during your rehearsal. If you don’t have a proper technical cue sheet then a fifty-dollar bill will be ample inducement for your tech to write one for you and give it to you on a CD for future use.

If you want to use live music for your show it is also very cost effective to have the bandleader write charts for you and it can certainly enhance a show to feature some live music in it. I customize my music CD and burn them fresh for each show. You really can’t expect the sound tech to jump backwards and forwards on a CD.

When I arrive on a ship and have some idea of what I will be performing, I also burn a CD that contains my running order, sound cues, lighting cues, introduction and also a couple of JPEGs of my latest working photo. Let the production manager print out the files and you walk into the rehearsal looking like a pro. After your show is finished don’t be afraid to buy the techies or band a drink to show your appreciation, it isn’t just polite but it’s good business.

Don’t forget that ships move—that’s how they get from port to port! If your table is on wheels then have the stage manager use black sandbags to avert disaster. Other disasters can occur, if you have dancers or another act following you on the bill, if you leave liquids or slippery props onstage after your performance. Yes, cards can be slippery! If a dancer slips on something you left onstage you could cause them to fall and break an ankle or worse.

This is a short list of some excellent ways to look your best and get the job done when you work on a ship. Oh, one more tiny point, any vessel big enough for you to be working on is a ship and NOT a boat. This is important terminology and getting it wrong makes you look like an idiot.There are plenty more tips that I can share if you would like to hear them. My email is so drop me an email if this is of interest.

~ by Nick Lewin on February 28, 2010.

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