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Archive for the ‘Cruise Ships’ Category

Getting Stranded in Alaska

Another guest blogger joins the fold today… This time around a story by my friend Matt Baker from the Comedy Juggling and Footbag Duo – The Brothers from Different Mothers. This story was originally published on Matt’s ‘Comedy Skills’ Blog and he was cool with the idea of re-posting it here. This story has specific meaning for me because I happened to be in Juneau about to join a ship myself and heard some of this story first hand over a couple of beers… Funny Stuff! Enjoy!

A lot of times missing a flight is completely out of one’s control. It’s out of your power if your connecting flight was late, the people on the moving sidewalk were standing in your way, or the person in front of you happens to be the color that the terrorist alert was set to. I once missed a flight because the security guard had to check what exactly I was packing in my pants; which was 228.6 mm of heat. So many times you are not to blame for missing your transportation. I wish I shared that sentiment when I missed my cruise ship. The reason I could not share it is because it is incredibly hard to miss a cruise ship. Nothing was preventing me from missing my ship; I plainly lost track of time.

I imagine most people, when pulling up in their taxi to see their ship sailing away without them, would freak out like a cocaine-less Andy Dick. Instead, my reaction was to burst into laughter. I guess I responded that way because I had not fully realized that I was just abandoned. I kept waiting for the cruise director to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Surprise!” Like it was some joke they played on a passenger every trip. Like, I won a prize for being the most un-organized person on the ship. Of course there was no tap, but there was a prize. The prize was one night of freedom from my 2,000 all white, all old, and mostly fat cruising counterparts.  Of course I say that in a pro; old-fat-white person way (can’t upset the fan base.) I relished in the idea of a night free of constant picture taking and loud boisterous arguments on if that was a whale or just a shadow. “What do you think cast the shadow?” One man said, not realizing how dumb of a statement that was. You get a lot of those dumb statements on a cruise ship. I heard one women refer to the natives of Alaska as, “Alaskamo’s.” My favorite is what her husband called them. I believe the term was, “Snow Mexicans.”

This is not the way I would choose to get freedom from my fellow cruisers. Much like the Iraqi’s, freedom was being forced upon me. However, I do enjoy the idea of being stranded, because it forces me to have to accomplish a mission.  I imagined getting back on the boat and having a news conference to explain what happened, with a banner behind me that said, “A Mission Accomplished.” Then after the conference, everyone says, “I think the boat was better without that guy.” This newfound independence made me feel like I was watching a Laura Croft movie; at first it sounds great, but after, you wonder what the hell you were thinking.

So my fate was decided. I was stay in Juneau for the night. As I still stood at the dock admiring my own stupidity, I thought about all the other times I had been abandoned. There was the time my mom abandoned me at a K-mart. Not in the literal sense, I just felt like she was abandoning good mothering when she actually took me to a K-mart. Or the time when I was 13, my oldest brother Kevin abandoned me at the Salt Lake City Airport. I wanted a cigarette and he said, “If you go and smoke I am leaving without you.” When I ignored his threat and went to smoke he just disappeared with my ticket. I got the last laugh, when I went to security and had them announce over the airport PA, “Kevin Baker, we have found your brother please report to airport security.” So to say the least, I had been groomed for the occasion.

Here are three things to do if you are ever stranded:

Step One: Figure out when you can leave, and do it!

Step Two: Find a place to stay, and rent it!

Step Three: Find a bar and Get drunk. However, make sure that does not cause you to forget about step one.

Step one was no problem. For $119 I was on the first flight to Skagway; where the cruise ship was stopping next. I don’t want to say the particular cruise line, but let’s just say it rhymes with Borewegian. Step two was a little harder. I had to walk around the town in search for an available hotel. It was really interesting seeing the town after all the cruise ships had left. All the characters came out. I kept waiting to see Sarah Palin and Todd stumble out of a bar and invite me over for a game of name that country. To my disappointment there were no celebrity sightings, and it saddened me that I had not seen any of these infamous Alaskamo’s.

I checked a few hotels and none were cheaper than $150. I have money, but I find something fundamentally wrong with paying so much money for a bed. For some people it makes sense. They need comfort and a sense of security, to be able to get a decent nights rest. As for me, all I need is a blanket. I can pretty much sleep anywhere. To save money in London, I took the subway to the airport every night, and slept at the baggage claim. In Maui, instead of the hostels, I simply slept on the beach. I can sleep pretty much anywhere. Along with identifying celebrity voices, and seeing midgets at far distances, it is one of my X-men abilities. Shelling out $150 for a place to lay my head for a few hours, even Jean Grey would laugh at. I needed to find something cheaper. So, I asked a guy who was trying to sell me a lighter for a dollar, if there was a hostel in town? He didn’t say a word and just pointed up the hill.

Up the hill I went. As I was walking, I passed a house that a woman had just walked out of. She was holding a Yoga mat and dressed like she was headed to work out. Our eyes met and she commented on my Descendents t-shirt.  She said, “nice shirt. The Descendant’s are like the best punk band ever.” I laughed and awkwardly said, “They are one of them.” Without hearing a word I said, she walked right by me brushing my right shoulder. In a very demanding voice she said, “My name’s Laurie, walk me to yoga.” I stood there absorbing the strange request. As I was sorting out the randomness of this occurrence, she continued to walk up the hill.  Without stopping she shouted, “Come on man. I am not trying to fuck you. I have a boyfriend. Hurry up, let’s go.” Her tone made it seem like I was inconveniencing her with my lack of sudden action. Whatever it was, it worked, because I moved like I was Kristie Alley chasing a Snickers bar.  However, it was less of me accompanying her, as it was more of, me awkwardly following her as she raced ahead. Even though she held a distance of five body lengths, she still managed to make conversation. She told me about her bartending job and her love for punk music. Fortunately the awkwardness was cut short, when we reached her yoga studio. I asked, “Is this it?” Surprisingly out of breath considering we had only walked two blocks. Ignoring my words and more luckily my sarcasm, she went on to invite me to her house later. “Stop by anytime. You can go there now and hang if you want. My boyfriend is there, but don’t worry he is cool.” She said as she disappeared into the yoga studio. As I walked away, I wondered all sorts of things about my new friend Laurie. I wondered; does she just not like walking alone? Does she do this to every person she passes on her way to yoga? Does she just wait in her window waiting for someone to walk by? I knew my questions would go unanswered and I continued on my quest for the holy hostel. I continued to walk up the hill until the street came to a dead end.  I stopped and asked a guy who was trying to sell me a barbeque skewer for $3.77 and he pointed (with the skewer) down this little path that led through some trees. I followed the path, which led me to a large house. It had a large porch in the front where a gutter punk couple was sitting.

Sam and Jeanie were from Denver, and welcomed me to the hostel. They took to me instantly, because I was wearing a Descendents t-shirt. Never before had this shirt gotten me so much attention. Was there some sort of Alaska-Descendents connection? We chatted on the porch for a while. They had only been in Juneau for 3 days and were giving me the 3 worthwhile spots to see in my 14 hours of furlough. They were staying here for the summer to find work and enjoy the 24 hours of sunshine. They told me about there horrid experience of sailing to Juneau from Seattle. They took a boat that transported vehicles to Alaska for people who were relocating there. 6 days of shaky seas and the disdain for their trip made me decide not to tell them about the giant cruise ship I sailed in on. I didn’t want to ruin the first people I had met who weren’t selling me something or asking me to walk them somewhere. Finally someone who liked me for the clothes I wore.

The hostel was even cheaper than I was expecting. When the lady at the counter told me that it was $10, I stared at her in awkward silence like it was the first time I saw a women’s breasts. After getting the brief introduction to the hostel I realized why is was so cheap. To cut down on the cost of paying employees, everyone staying at the hostel had to leave from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On top of the 9 hours you were not allowed to be there, you had to be back by 12 a.m. Or you were locked out. Not that being locked out in the warm sun is really that bad? They say that from June 21 to Dec 21st Alaska loses 5 minutes of sunlight a day. So in reality Alaskan’s loose 5 minutes of happiness a day. Not only did they dictate the hours you could be there, they also had the guests do all the chores. My allotted task was to vacuum the stairs and mop the dining room.

In my book there is only one downfall about hostels, it is the people who do weird things in there sleep. You are always rolling the dice when you are sharing a room with 4-8 people. Sometimes, you get people who snore; some who talk in there sleep, and once in the middle of the night I even heard people having sex. I love waking up to sex, but only when I am having it. I don’t want to hear the sound of a hand slapping water unless I am the one slapping. My roommate for the evening was Rustam from Kyrgyzstan. Rustam was an extremely nice guy, who would soon be added to my list of people I would never share a room with again. I actually really liked him, until about 6:30 a.m. That was the time he decided to set his alarm for. I don’t get people who set their alarm an hour before they want to get up. I have no problem with people who get up early. Or, people who are making noise as they leave, but I do have a problem for someone hitting there snooze 8 times when they are sharing a room with strangers.

The main problem is not how many times he hit the snooze; it was how long the alarm lasted before he hit it. The alarm was not loud enough to wake him up, but was loud enough to wake up me, and the people in the room down the hall. Also, the alarm sound he chose was the most annoying thing I have heard since the first time I heard Celine Dion’s voice. I can deal with birds chirping or, a cool song, but his alarm made the sound of babies crying sound like ocean waves. It was one of those alarms that the longer it went, the louder it got. Before Rustam hit the snooze, the alarm would be going off for a good minute (which in official sleep time is the equivalent of 32 minutes.) Not only did it begin to get loud, after 30 seconds it added a voice saying something in some strange language. I imagined it was Kyrgyz and the voice was saying, “Get the fuck up you inconsiderate asshole.” Finally I sat up and in my politest voice said, “Hey dude, you got to turn that fucking thing off. Fuck…” He obliged, but not in the way I was hoping. I assumed after an hour of hitting the snooze button, and waking me up every 5 minutes, he would turn the alarm off. Instead he switched the alarm to what he thought was a more pleasant wake up call, a rooster crowing. The moment I heard the first cockadoodldoo I jumped from my bed and headed across the room. My intention was to take his phone and throwing it out the cracked window. Instead, Rustam rolled out of bed and apologized for waking me. Since I was standing there in my underwear looking as pissed as if I was Tom Cruise finding out scientology was just a ploy to get my money. I accepted his apology and went back to bed.

My sleep did not last long, because again I was woken up prematurely. This time however, it was the lady who checked me in inflicting the punishment. As she was shaking me she said, “Mr. Baker, you have not done your chores yet and you have to get out by 9.” I rolled my eyes and told her I would get right on it, which I did. I got out of bed, got my things together and when the lady wasn’t looking, slipped out the door and got right on getting the fuck out of there. I caught the first cab I saw, and instructed him to head to the airport. When we arrived at the Juneau International Airport, I had to ask the driver if this was the right place. I had to check because we were sitting in front of a building no bigger than a Radio Shack, and there were no planes in site. There was a long strip of land that resembled what an abstract artist might paint as a runway, but nothing that would hint to future archeologist that planes actually landed there.

The inside of the airport didn’t inspire much hope in me either. I felt like I was on the set of Wings, which ironically was the name of my airline. I walked up to the counter and told them I had a reservation and they handed me a ticket. No asking for a name, no looking at ID, no asking if my bag had hazardous material, I guess they just give ticket to anyone who claims they made a reservation. The security was just as lackadaisical as the check in. Apparently, metal detector technology has not made it’s way to Alaska yet. To be honest it was quite nice to not have to take my shoes off and put everything in a baggie. When I heard you were not allowed to bring 3 oz of liquid on a plane, I wondered what next? I thought, let’s just hope the terrorist’s don’t figure out a way to make urine dangerous. The frustrating thing about security screening is that every airport is different. There is no unified system to what they allow and don’t allow. For example, The Seattle airport allows me to have shaving cream, but when I go through Spokane; an airport the size of my middle nut, they freak out like I am secretly plotting to lather up the plane and shave it. Another time in Lisbon, they pulled my bag aside because I had some liquid that exceeded the amount allowed. When they opened the bag and found my axe body spray, they laughed and let me go. It was strange, like I was secretly shooting a commercial for axe.  Regardless, of if other people were bringing on bombs that would crash and kill everyone on the plane it was nice for once to not have to throw out my toiletries.

When the flight was ready, the counter lady went around; from memory, and got all the passengers who were flying to Skagway. All 9 of us huddled up around the grey bearded pilot, like he was going to give us some sort of strategy we needed to stick to if we all wanted to survive. No real strategic maneuvers, all he said was, “Alright, we got a full flight. Be careful walking out on the runway there are a lot of holes and I don’t want you to twist an ankle.” I laughed out loud because he reminded of me of Santa Clause preparing his reindeer for the tough flight. We all got on the plane, and I was the last to board. As I was about to get on, Santa say’s to me, “I like you. I want you to be my co-pilot.” Shocked; I replied, “Really?” The thought flashed through my head of having to land the plane on a glacier because someone took out the pilot with their nail clippers. The same ones that normally get confiscated because of metal detectors. I was excited. When I got on the plane, I realized that the only seat available was the one sitting next to the pilot. Even though Santa was being nice in making me think I would actually assist him in the flight, I did not let that stop me from thinking I was the Neo of this flights matrix.

I have flown on a lot of small planes. I think this was the first plane I had been on where you can flick the pilot’s ear from the back seat. The co-pilot’s seat was comfy. So comfy, I fell right asleep when my ass hit it. Finally a sleep not interrupted from annoying alarms that make you want to punch nuns, or people shaking you trying to get you to do some mundane choir. I awoke to the sound of wheels hitting the gravel that paved the Skagway airport. My eyes opened to see my cruise ship sitting there, beckoning to me to come aboard. It was a nice way to wake up. Even though I had been gone less than 24 hours, I kind of missed the little things on the cruise you take for granted; like the drink holders next to the urinals and the people on carts driving around while drinking Franzia.  The moment I walked on the ship I was greeted in the elevator by two middle aged folks who took the elevator up one floor and it made me glad to be back.

This just in from Holland American Line…

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Got the attached screen shot from Bob Cates a couple of days ago with the news that apparently Holland American Cruise Lines has, for some unknown reason blocked access to my blog… Bob writes –

I thought you would find this disconcerting. Holland America Line, for what it’s worth, seams to be blocking your blog. I did manage to get onto your home page (www.checkerhead.com) but when going to the blog, it gave me the following screen. (you can see your url in the image capture). Not sure how on earth one would fix this. Can’t imagine there are many 70 year olds on Holland America trying to access your blog though.

I think Bob was more disconcerted than I am about this which is both flattering and surprising. I wonder if this has anything to do with the weird hack that happened to the blog a couple of weeks back. Someone got in and inserted this weird block of text that appeared before the blog posts. To be honest I hadn’t even noticed it either as the problem wasn’t showing up in Safari for a period of time and it wasn’t until I check out a bug report by my friend Jim that I noticed the problem when I opened the blog using Firefox

As soon as I recognized the problem I talked to my guy at E T Web Hosting and he had it sorted out with in an hour or so… Quick fix and there haven’t been any problems since. I have noticed a huge increase in the amount of Spam Comments that are left on the site for some reason which I also though was semi-flattering in a weird sort of way. If my blog has become popular enough for spammers to try and tap into my readership, well that’s pretty cool in a bizarre sort of way. Mind you the more likely answer to why this is happening is likely some sort of automated robot that’s finding the right combination of software and accessibility and just plastering the site… Might have to go in and have a closer look at the setting actually… Hmmmm… Yes…likely a good idea.

Short story long… If you’re cruising aboard Holland America any time soon and try to access the blog, you may not be able to… Just one of those things in the imperfect world that is the World Wide Web.

Reflective Math after two contracts…

2010-01-13Where in the world am I today?: St. Maarten aboard the Emerald Princess

So I’ve done two different cruise ship gigs since the beginning of the year. One aboard the Monarch of the Seas, a ship operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the other which I’m on now aboard the Emerald Princess. Before I go any further I must state that both lines have been good to me over the years and I’m in no way trying to pit one against the other, but wanted to put forward some math that I was running through my head the other day when I compared one with the other…

Let’s start with the contract I did aboard the Royal Caribbean Ship. Joined the ship on a Monday, left on a Saturday, performed two times for the Farewell Show on the last night and my sets were about 45 minutes long each. Six days aboard the ship if you count the day I disembarked, complete freedom to do what ever I like for the first few days until I was brought into the theatre on Friday to do my rehearsal and shows that evening.

Next lets look at the contract I’m just finishing up aboard the Emerald Princess. I joined the ship on a Thursday and will leave tomorrow (also a Thursday). I’ve done fourteen shows in the Piazza and do two tonight in the Princess Theatre as part of a split bill show. So… eight days aboard the ship if you count the day that I disembark, shows every single day of the contract averaging around 25 minutes or so meaning a bit less freedom of movement, but an awesome opportunity to stay sharp by performing a lot which I quite like because I find that if I don’t perform a lot I get a bit rusty… This many shows has the effect of making me really sharp, though by the end of a run like this I’m usually a bit drained…

Now… Consider this… Both contracts pay roughly the same salary.

The conditions are similar but different, the performance obligation aboard Princess is certainly consists of a significantly larger number of shows, but the shows are shorter and certainly in the Piazza are much lower pressure than working in the bigger rooms. Having such a light performance schedule on Royal Caribbean may seem great, but sitting around waiting to work can end up getting a bit boring if you let it.

This particular contract aboard Princess has a rather high show count and usually it’s not quite this high, especially if you’re brought on to perform in spaces other than the Piazza. I should also mention that the expected show length in the Piazza is only really about 15 minutes with some acts doing as little as seven or eight, so that I typically do about 20 – 25 is more than is really ‘necessary,’ but I just don’t feel like I’ve done a show unless I have some sort of beginning, middle and end.

The show count on Princess has gone up over the last year though, there’s no doubt about that. This started back in about March of 2009 when I think they pulled one guest entertainer spot off per cruise on all of their ships as a money saving procedure. The remaining acts were asked to do repeat performances and pick up the slack, but the salaries didn’t increase along with the show count. The general consensus is/was that if you were going to complain about the extra shows they could simply replace you with a long list of acts who had been cut and were quite happy to accept the new conditions if it meant getting the job…

In these touch economic times” seemed to be the catch phrase that got bounced around a lot as the means to manipulate the system and performers into doing more shows for the same money.

Working on ships is pretty great, you get to travel around usually to either warm or exotic ports, you get a staff of people backing you up to make your show look and sound the best it possible can which is awesome! Being aware that each line has different expectations of the acts and how much they’ll be asking you to work is worth a bit of research though just so you know what you’re getting yourself into and can feel good about the decisions you’ve made and the number of shows you’ll be doing. It’s not always about the money, but the last thing on earth you want is to start feeling as though you’re being taken advantage of.

Connecting to the Internet while on Ships…

2010-01-12Where in the world am I today?: At Sea in the Caribbean aboard the Emerald Princess.

The two biggest things you need to know about connecting to the Internet when you’re aboard ships is that it’s Slow and it’s reasonably $pendy. Now my experience of connecting to the internet while on ships has been limited to three lines, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Carnival, so I can only really talk about my experience on these three lines, and some of this information may not be current because I haven’t been on a Carnival Ship in a while. If anyone reading this knows more about the situation on other ships and cares to add information to the comments section it would be a welcome addition to this particular technical issue that performers face when performing on ships.

On both Carnival and Royal Caribbean I connected to the Internet using the wifi connection and pricing plan that was available to passengers. The log-in procedure for both was fairly simple. On Royal Caribbean I went to the ‘Internet Café’ onboard and set up a wifi account by swiping my cruise card (the card you receive when you join the ship which you use to charge all of your expenses to) and following a fairly straight forward log in procedure. Basic pricing started at 55¢ a minute for the wifi connection but if you wanted to buy a chunk of time there were plans that offered a slight discount depending on the number of minutes you wanted to purchase. In this situation I opted for the by the minute rate and really tried to limit the amount of time that I was connected to simply darting online, grabbing my emails, sending anything that needed to be sent then disconnecting. If you’re not careful, it’s really easy to let this sort of plan run up a significant bill… Especially if you inadvertently forget to disconnect – Ouch!

When I got to perform as part of the Barenaked Ladies Ships and Dip cruises (I did them in 2007 and 2008) I was on a couple of different Carnival Ships and their Internet connection policy was much the same as it was on Royal Caribbean. Log on, set up an account and pay by the minute of connection time…

Princess (which I seem to work on the most) has a slightly better deal. For what ever reason, I’m able to connect to the Internet on Princess Ships at the crew rate. To do this I go up to the crew internet cafe, pick up a $20.00 internet access card (pictured in the image that accompanies this post) and get 180 minutes of internet time. This works out to a little over 11¢ a minute which represents a significant savings. On many Princess ships you need to go up to the Crew Lounge to connect to the crew wifi signal, but on some ships like the Emerald Princess which I’m sailing on at the moment the signal reaches all the way to your cabin so you never have to leave the comfort of your cabin when you want to connect to/surf the net and at 11¢ a minute you can actually do a bit of surfing with out the threat of having to mortgage your house or sell your children for lab experiments to pay for the cost of it… Princess has however put some blocks up in the system… You can’t connect to YouTube for example because the bandwidth required to play streaming videos is such that it really slows down the system.

Speaking of the speed of the internet on ships… It’s slow… Really slow compared to what it’s like on land. This is because the internet connect is set up through the ships satellite communication system and as a result you’re limited to what the ships communication system is capable of. You’re also sharing that capability with not just your fellow crew members, but also all of the passengers on the ship. So even if Princess hadn’t put a block on YouTube, chances are you wouldn’t want to watch any videos via YouTube anyway because they’d take so long to download that the ‘free’ nature of what YouTube offers would end up costing you far more than it’s worth.

What I often end up doing is keeping emails in my inbox that require some sort of longer internet connection to deal with until I’m either at a port where there’s an Internet Café or just wait until I get home and breath a deep sigh of relief when I open my laptop and my computer finds the home signal… Ah the joys of a nice fat pipe to the wonderful world of the Interweb!

Babysitting as Marketing?

2010-01-11Where in the world am I today?: At Sea in the Caribbean aboard the Emerald Princess

Lifted the movie poster for Adventures in Babysitting for today’s post because it somehow seemed appropriate. What does babysitting have to do with marketing? Aren’t Mondays on this blog supposed to be about some sort of marketing tip? Well let me tell ya. The last three days or so aboard the Emerald Princess my cruise ship agent, Wendy, has been on board with her family including her 21-month old daughter. In the chaos of being on the ship with her husband, her parents, her inlaws etc., not to mention the social/business obligations she had to meet the entertainment department on the ship, get to as many shows as possible and be “ON” as an Agent… Well the added responsibilities of the 24/7 job that is motherhood stretched energy levels a bit thin at times…

Having lived through the happy chaos of parenthood with my two boys, I recognized immediately the need to give Wendy a break and offered to keep an eye on her daughter who had already come to see several of my shows in the Piazza, so for little pockets of time when ever I saw the opportunity I jumped in as babysitter so Wendy could grab a bite to eat, or have a conversation, or check on her husband, or what ever.

So what does this have to do with Marketing?

Well people who are successful in business are successful at building relationships. In the five years that I’ve been getting cruise ship work through the Don Casino Productions office I’ve spent very little time actually building a personal relationship with the people in the office who continue to provide me with a TON of work. When I first heard that Wendy was going to be on the ship I thought that perhaps it would be my chance to ask a number of questions about the upcoming season, about getting the sort of work that I wanted to pursue, about possibly getting a pay increase, about any number of topics, but the need I saw which I could happily fulfil, that of a babysitter, will likely do more for my connection with Wendy than any three hour conversation about the state of the industry would have.

Besides, it was fun. My kids are nine and twelve at this stage and are becoming increasingly independent. Having a couple of hours to share with a younger child was actually a lot of fun because it reminded me of a much different time in my journey as a parent.

The fact that my shows so successfully kept Wendy’s daughter… Heck, Wendy’s entire family so entertained in the Piazza of the Emerald Princess will also likely put me in good standing with the agency and with the Entertainment Department of Princess Cruises as one of the things that Wendy did say to me in one of the conversations we did have was – Princess should book you for all of your available dates… They NEED you!

So… Some fun shows, a few hours of hanging out and babysitting and it feels like I achieved more in the last three days in terms of traction with my agent and Princess Cruises than I think I may have in the first five years of working through the agency… Amazing!

Nice to be back on the Monarch!

2009-12-30Where in the world am I today?: Nassau, The Bahamas aboard the Monarch of the Seas.

I’m feeling all filled with nostalgia at the moment aboard the Monarch of the Seas because this was one of the first ships I performed on after signing on to have Don Casino represent me to the cruise ship market. Flash back to February 2005, I flew myself to Miami for the Don Casino Talent Showcase and got a contract shortly after with Celebrity Cruise Lines… My start with Celebrity seemed to fizzle out before it really had a chance to get going though and it wasn’t until I started to work for Royal Caribbean in July of that same year that I really started to feel like I was getting some traction with the agency and with one specific cruise line.

Over the course of the months that followed I ended up working on the Monarch of the Seas a number of times and I feel like I have this ship and the shows I did in the Sound of Music Theatre to thank for helping me transition my show to working well for audiences on cruise ships. Although the Monarch is one of the smallest ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet (just over a third of the over all tonnage of the monster  Oasis of the Seas), coming back to this ship this week feels like coming home in a strange sort of way and I’m really looking forward to being back up on this particular stage at the end of the week.

Here’s the low-down on the space in the Sound of Music Theatre… The venue itself can hold about six hundred and eighty people. Given that the maximum capacity of the ship is two thousand seven hundred and forty four passengers, the chances of getting decent houses for your performances are really good. Now not every cruise has a capacity crowd, but given the ratio of two shows per evening divided by the total number of passengers, it’s more than likely that the room will feel pretty full when you step out on stage. This is a very good thing! The other thing that helps is that the Sound of Music Theatre is the only show room on the Monarch of the Seas, so, unlike on most Princess ships were there are often multiple shows to choose from nightly, on the Monarch, the show that’s going on in the Theatre is ‘The Show’ to see each night. Result – bigger houses.

Seating in the venue take the form of long slightly arched sofa-like chairs and several rows of what seem like movie theatre chairs on the main level that are slightly raked as they move back from the stage meaning that sight lines in just about every seat of the theatre are excellent. Further back there are tables and chairs providing a bit of a cabaret venue feel and there’s a wrap around balcony above as well. That the venue has enough height for a balcony means excellent ceiling height for performers like myself who juggle and use the space as well as second level viewing options for spectators. Were I to compare it to the venues I typically play on Princess ships, the Sound of Music Theatre would be a combination of the Universe Lounge and the Princess Theatre and seems to pull the strengths of both of those Princess venues into a single performance space which is awesome.

The shape and acoustics in the room also lend for a better experience for the performer on stage. The energy exchange is fantastic. Any energy you throw out to the audience comes back in spades. This seems to be because the venue itself funnels audience reaction right back onto the stage and almost amplifies it. As I watched the welcome aboard show on Monday night I could feel waves of energy hitting the stage as the audience responded to the comedian. It was fabulous!

The stage itself is raised a little over three feet above the ground level seats in the front row meaning that for the front few rows of the audience, the stage is at eye level. All eyes are up to look at the performers on stage which likely also helps the energy of the audience as its a bit harder for the blue rinse set to nod off as a result. This configuration doesn’t seem to make for any sort of uncomfortable separation between audience and performer and the staircases on either side of the stage make it easy for performers to leave the stage and enter the audience or have audience members join the performer on stage for volunteer bits.

Technical support in Sound of Music Theatre takes the form of the Production Manager who runs the space, one technician on sound, another on lights and if required there is also back stage help as well. In other words there are plenty of hands on deck should you require any special effects or added assistance in making your show work. I spoke of transitioning my show to work well for the cruise ship audience and this has more to do with the attitude with which I deliver my material as opposed to how successfully I tap into the technical aspects of what ship venues can provide in the way of support. I barely scratch the surface in terms of what sorts of effects I ‘could’ use in these theatres, but keeping it simple seems to keep the rehearsals short which in turn keeps the technicians happy. Happy technician, happy show seems to be a fairly safe way to opperate for me.

Show requirement-wise I’ll be doing a thirty minute set as part of the Farewell Show during this particular contract. I’ll do that same thirty minutes for two different seatings, one at 7:00 pm and the second at 9:00 pm on the last night of the cruise. Also included in the show will be a sneak-peek of the cruise video that is produced on-board, appropriate funny and thank-you’s from the cruise director and a short production number by the singers and dancers as well as a passenger dance number I believe. Variety acts seem to get this spot in the farewell show a lot on Royal Caribbean Ships, so depending on how you look a things either this is a great because it’s far less work than what I typically do for Princess, or it’s not as good because you spend a lot of your time waiting around to work. For me, the chance to come back and play on the Monarch again is a treat and I’m thoroughly looking forward to my shows on Friday!

Flying in the world of Today…

2009-12-29Where in the world am I today?: At Sea aboard the Monarch of the Seas.

Bit touch and go getting out of Vancouver on Sunday as I made my way down to Florida to join the Monarch of the Seas. Now I should preface this by saying that I’m not a big consumer of ‘The News.’ I don’t have newspaper deliver, don’t watch the News on television, don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on via the Internet, yet in spite of this (perhaps because of this) I seem to survive quite successfully in the world by picking up on what’s relevant by what I glean from actual human contact. Who’da thunk…

If I’m a bit out of touch to begin with, well then Christmas and Boxing Day put me even further behind the eight ball because I’d been purposefully ignoring my computer so I could spend time with my wife and kids… I totally missed the recent terrorist bombing attempt of NW Flight 253 in the Detroit area by a Nigerian Man that strapped some sort of explosive device to his body and set it off as the flight was coming into Detroit… The result? Heightened security at all airports…

Holy Cow! Security at YVR on Sunday was INSANE!

Over two hours in line to get through security and then the added fun of doing the immigration two step and the mad dash to the gate on the off chance that the flight hadn’t left yet… Thankfully it hadn’t but I was certainly the last one on the flight and this after having arrived over three hours prior to departure. From what I understand the reason why I was able to make the flight at all was because it was late arriving as a result of increased security at another airport that the plane had come from prior to it’s arrival into Vancouver. One delay lead to the next and then to the next… The departure out of Vancouver was delayed so much that there was no way on earth that I was going to make the connection in Minneapolis and as a result I ended up spending the night in a hotel near the Airport on North West’s dime.

In such situations it’s usually best not to get too freaked out, but to just roll with the punches and make the best of the situation. In my particular case in this particular instance this wasn’t all that difficult. The Northwest Agent I dealt with was great about issuing me meal vouchers, getting me a hotel voucher and booking me on a flight the next morning to Orlando that got me in with plenty of time to make the ship before it departed. In fact, having the evening at the hotel in Minneapolis allowed me a great opportunity to get caught up on some emails and business and the next day when I boarded the plane I discovered that I had been upgraded to First Class. So… In some ways I was further ahead as a result of the chaos.

Still this sort of confusion can at times get a bit stressful as you play out the very uncomfortable scenario of not actually making it to the ship in time. I guess that’s why most cruise lines like to fly you in a day before you’re meant to join the ship. Nine times out of ten it would be fine to fly and join the ship on the same day as it sets sail, but that one time in ten having the extra time really can save your bacon!

A Fun Introduction

2009-12-21Where in the world am I today?: Flying home from Fort Lauderdale to North Vancouver…

Got off the GRAND Princess and am on my way home… Feels good to be getting back before Christmas though I still have a small pile of stuff that needs my attention before I can really kick back and enjoy the Holidays. Still, the mere fact that I’m heading home and will be able to get to ‘The Pile’ while at home and get to sleep in my own bed is pleasantly comforting. I’ll hit the switch in my head, click into travel mode and before ya know it I’ll be arriving home… Ahhhhhhhhh… In the mean time however may as well get to the blog topic for the day – Introductions.

On ships I almost always get asked how I’d like to be introduced before I head out on stage. Typically it’s the Cruise Director or Deputy Cruise director on the ship who does the intros for the shows and the easier you can make it for them to get you on stage the better. If you can craft something simple for them easy to remember that elicits a laugh from the audience so that they get to play the comedian, so much the better. Depending on what sort of day they’ve had, the sort of energy they’ve got to sell you before you show and any number of other factors your intro may get the crowd whipped into a frenzy before you even step on the stage or it may just do the simple job of telling the audience who is about to hit the stage.

I travel with a couple of prepared introductions each of which has a bit of a comedic slant and aren’t too taxing in terms of memorization…

Intro #1 –

Though best known for his award-winning juggling antics, our performer this evening also shares something in common with comedy greats Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and Dan Aykroyd. He too is Canadian. Please welcome to the stage the one and only David Aiken – The Checkerboard Guy.

Intro #2 –

This evening’s guest entertainer’s prize-winning comedy juggling performance has been a huge hit around the world! In fact, he has just come back from an extended tour in Japan where he was doing his entire show in Japanese. We thought it would be fun to get him to do his show for you tonight in Japanese as well. Please welcome the comedy juggling sensation, The Checkerboard Guy, David Aiken!

Having two gives who ever is doing the intro a choice in terms of which one they feel more comfortable delivering and I always let them know that these are just suggestions. A place to start… The guy I was just working with on the GRAND took the basic premise from Intro #2, that I was going to do my show in Japanese, and weaved a whole different set up for it… Great! Different people have different levels of creativity and energy to put into these things, but the objective is to set up the fun that the audience is about to experience.

If #2 Intro is used I always walk out and start the show in Japanese just for effect and again the show starts off with something a little unexpected (well unless I’m in Japan) and gets the crowd ready for the journey I’m about to take them on.

In a very real sense, any piece of marketing or promotional material that you create is an introduction to a possible client so if you’ve put a ton of effort into creating a website, a promotional video, business cards etc. to try and get the job, well then why not make the effort to craft an introduction to the show that’s fun and in keeping with your personality so that each audience also gets the right sort of introduction to you and your show.

The Universe Lounge

2009-11-25Where in the world am I today?: St. Maarten aboard the EMERALD Princess

I was working on the ISLAND Princess last week which is one of just two ships in the Princess Fleet (The CORAL Princess being the other) that are home to The Universe Lounge. This is one of my favourite venues to play on Princess Ships and ironically the cruise director had me work exclusively in the Princess Theatre… A bit odd, but what’cha gonna do?

So what makes The Universe Lounge one of my favourite venues to play? Well, for one, it’s a great space for jugglers as the ceiling height is significant enough to allow you to do just about everything you could possibly want to do. The lounge is set up rather like the Explorer’s Lounge on other ships, but the Universe had a second level of balcony seats and the ceiling goes up a full two decks which is awesome! The stage (although it’s a bit hard to see from the image because the curtain is down, thrusts out into the audience as well which puts you right in the middle of the audience which, coming from my street performance background feels completely intuitive and natural.

Like the stages in the VISTA Lounge on other Princess Ships, the stage in the Universe Lounge can be raised and lowered. There are actually several different sections to the stage that can be raised and lowered independently of each other and have been very effectively incorporated into a show featuring Broadway/Television Actor, Adrian Zmed. Unlike other venues however, the ceiling height is such that there’s no need to lower the stage in the Universe Lounge when I pull out my tall unicycle. There’s plenty of room to work even with the stage at normal height.

The seating on the main level of the lounge are arranged with tables and chairs as well as sofas providing a cabaret style experience for the audience. This is means a slightly lighter audience density than in the traditional raked rows of seats found in the main theatre, but  it also lends itself nicely to a slightly less formal setting which is well suited to the style of show that I perform. Drink service is also provided by a bar at the back of the room, so after a drink or two people are usually in a pretty good mood by the time the show starts.

Technical support in Universe Lounge is usually provided by three individuals much the way it is in the VISTA Lounge on other ships. You’ve got one guy back stage to assist if needed, one guy who runs the sound and lights and a third who acts as the over all watch-dog of the show, usually the production manager who ensures the overall smooth running of the show. Although I never really put to great a demand on the production team, they are there to make sure that the shows are the best that they can possibly look and that everything runs smoothly.

For about the last week I’ve been aboard the EMERALD Princess working in the Piazza, which might well be my favorite venue to play, but any time I’m offered the chance to play on either the CORAL or the ISLAND I jump at it and keep my fingers crossed that I’ll be playing in the Universe Lounge.

Loosing Track of Time…

2009-11-24Where in the world am I today?: At Sea aboard the EMERALD Princess

This little tip came to me recently while working on a couple of Princess Ships. Last week I was on the ISLAND Princess, this week I’m on the EMERALD Princess and on both ships the runs crossed time zones. It’s pretty easy to let the days blend together a bit when you’re doing a cruise ship contract because it’s a little like the experience that Bill Murray went through in “GroundhogDay.” The routine, the environment, the passengers all end up taking on a certain ‘same-ness’ to them that create’s a certain sense of deja vu and makes it very easy to miss a clock change or loose track of exactly what day it is. That being said, the cruise director does expect you to show up for your performances on time as to the technical teams from the various venues that you perform in aboard ship.

Though it didn’t effect my performances aboard the ISLAND Princess last week, I did experience a bit of a time-zone anomaly on the day I disembarked in Limon, Costa Rica. For whatever reason the ship doesn’t switch over to local time which is one hour earlier than ship time. I suspect that this is because the ship is only in this time zone for one day and it’s easier for everyone to not have to make the time switch for only one day… I set my cel phone’s alarm clock to wake me up with lots of time to finish packing the morning of my departure but what I didn’t realize was that my cel phone switched over to Costa Rican time when my phone was able to access the local network. This meant that when my alarm went off I actually got up an hour later (by ships time) than I had intended which made for a slightly more chaotic morning as I scrambled to get everything packed and ready to go.

Yesterday aboard the EMERALD I work up with the ship anchored off the coast of Princess’s private island in the Bahamas, Princess Cays. Woke up, went for some breakfast and got about my morning routine when I realized that the ship had crossed over a time zone change and it was actually an hour later than I had originally thought… This meant that all of a sudden I needed to re-think my day in terms of the things that I wanted to accomplish and how I was going to do it given the fact that I inadvertently misplaced an hour…

The simple solution to keeping track of time sits right on your desk in your cabin. The display on the top of the phone gives you the ship’s current time. There’s also the a channel on the TV in your cabin that keeps you up-to-date on such things as the ship’s current position, the time, weather conditions etc. So… When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to double check to make sure the time you think it is on the ship is actually the time that everyone else on the ship is working by.

Powerpoint or Keynote Slides

2009-11-16Where in the world am I today?: Limon -> San Jose (Costa Rica) -> Miami, Fl, USA

Almost a year ago when I was working on the GRAND Princess the image that accompanies this post was created to promote my show in the Princess Theatre. The technical staff of the theatre asked me for a photo then took that image and created a Powerpoint slide to project on the side screens of the Princess Theatre before the show began. The ability to quickly provide them with a jpeg to use in the slide meant that they had an image of my selection to use for the slide and at the time I was happy to have them create the slide that got used to promote the show.

I’m now thinking that with a little bit of effort I could come up with something far better in the way of a Powerpoint or Keynote slide or perhaps even a full slide show that could run for the 15 – 20 minutes prior to my show starting much like those trivia contests that run in movie theatres before the feature begins. People are in the theatre, if the side screens are available people will get sucked into watching them… Why not take greater advantage of this as a resource for not only promoting the show, but also engaging the audience, and prepping them for the nature of the show to come?

I’ve just finished a contract aboard the ISLAND Princess and thoroughly enjoyed working with comedian Jim McDonald who, to my mind, has taken the concept of using a slide show to a whole different level and has incorporated it into his act. The slides get such a strong reaction from the audiences that this is what he uses to close his shows.

Now stand-up comedy is quite often an art form that primarily appeals to the sense of hearing. Sure the gestures a comic makes on stage ad a certain visual component to the act, but it’s amazing to watch the audience get sucked in to not only the words that Jim is saying but also the visual clues that are provided by the slides and video that he has prepared for the end of his shows. By increasing the scope of the visual appeal of his show, he increases the overall resonance of his show.

This notion of audience appeals is discussed in a great book geared primarily towards performers of magic called Showmanship for Magicians by Dariel Fitzkee. Though this book is now decades old, it does a fantastic job of discussing various ways to appeal to an audience and suggests that the more ‘appeals’ you can incorporate into your performance the greater the impact you’ll have on your audience…

All this from the original concept of projecting a slide (or slides) before your show to promote to the audience what’s to come. I’m fully prepared to admit that I haven’t taken full advantage of this appeal to the audience and view it as a potential gold mine opportunity to market myself, my website and my sense of funny to each and every audience that I play to when projected images are possible prior to the beginning of the show. It’s not possible in every venue to be sure, but where it is, why not take advantage of it.

Have a Back-up Plan

2009-11-10Where in the world am I today?: Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA aboard the ISLAND Princess

When I travel I pull my unicycle apart so it will pack smaller. This is both a good and a bad thing… Good because I make a regular practice of checking the mechanical parts to ensure that everything is in good working order, bad because the process of disassembling my uni so frequently puts added wear and tear on some of the components that I tweak the most often.

The picture that accompanies this post shows an inner-tube the exact size that fits into the unicycle that I most frequently travel with. I keep a spare with me when I travel because I’ve had these tubes spring a leak on me at the most inopportune times… During the winter months I seem to do a fair amount of work on cruise ships and quite often the availability of things like inner-tubes for 12 ½ inch-tired unicycles is rather sparce.

The first time I had a tube go on me I was working in Winnipeg and running to Canadian Tire for a replacement was easy, but it got me to thinking that had I been out at sea when this had happened I would have been screwed! I promptly went out and got a couple of spares as back-ups and always carry one with me.

I’ve actually had a couple of instances when I suffered from equipment failure and have learned from experience to carry back-ups of anything that can fail. I’ve also learned to take mental note of things during shows that aren’t in perfect condition and make every attempt to stay on top of regular maintenance of props so that things don’t go sideways unexpectedly.

Inevitably due to normal wear and tear props need to be replaced from time to time, but by  periodically spending time checking things over and replacing things before they’re entirely worn out you can avoid the embarrassing situation of having that critical part that can make or break your finale.

The Explorer’s Lounge

2009-10-28Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

This is the fourth of the series based on the venues that I’ve played while working on various Princess Cruises ships and it dawned on me that this series might have been better suited to my ‘Technical Tuesday’ discussions as opposed to work related Wednesday which are usually a place to discuss the actual getting of gigs, but knowing a bit about the venues in advance of actually pitching yourself for work on a cruise ship may in fact effect the decision as to whether you actually want to get work in these venues, so I guess it’s still relevant to the normal topics usually covered on Wednesdays.

I first experienced doing shows in the Explorer’s Lounge aboard the Crown Princess back in September of 2006. The layout of the Crown is a bit different than on the ‘Grand Class‘ Princess ships and some of the other ships in the fleet in that the area at the aft (back) of the ship where the VISTA Lounge is often located instead is home to ‘Club Fusion’ a dance club and bar that also gets used for a variety of other activities including ballroom dancing classes, various game show sorts of events and of course as a dance club. Because there is no ‘VISTA Lounge’ on these larger ships, the secondary performance venue defaults to the ‘Explorer’s Lounge’ which on some of the other ships serves as one of the primary live music venues.

Working on ships is a bit different than working ‘on land,’ but were I to draw comparisons to venues I’ve worked on land, then I’d describe the Explorer’s Lounge as having the feeling of a comedy club. People are seated in chairs at tables and along sofas around the room, and the venue itself is quite a bit smaller than the Princess Theatre or the VISTA Lounge and can usually accommodate a crowd of between 250 – 350 people. Compare this to the between 600 and 800 people that can be accommodated in the Princess Theatre (depending on the ship) and it becomes immediately apparent that this is a more intimate venue for shows.

This comes with both pluses and minuses… On the plus side, playing in a venue that feels really full when there are 250 people in it is great because it’s always more fun to play to a full room. Put that same number of people in the Theatre and it would feel deserted. On the minus side, the powers that be at Princess Cruises feel that to allow as many passengers as possible the opportunity to see the shows that are going on in this venue, they require acts to do three shows a night. This is one more than normal when working in either the VISTA or the Princess Theatre, but the salary remains the same, so it’s more work for the same amount of pay.

Much like the VISTA Lounge that I discussed last week, this venue can be a challenge for jugglers because the ceiling height is quite limited. Like the VISTA this space also has a semi-raised stage that can be retracted during the course of the performance if necessary and for me it usually is. Simply stated, when I get up on my Unicycle I need all the height I can get.

In the image that accompanies this post you’ll hopefully be able to make out the line of the dance floor that meets up with the carpeting in most of the room. The stage is actually set on rollers and pivots around a point in the centre and rotates out from underneath the permanent stage that is set back from the dance floor. It takes about 30 – 45 seconds to roll the stage out or in, so it’s important to allow for this time during the course of your performance if you do need to take advantage of the extra ceiling height. The other alternative is of course to perform the whole show with the stage put away, but I quite like being on stage during most of my show as it improves the sight lines significantly for people around the room to be raised up a bit for the majority of the show.

The seats in this venue are arranged in less of a symmetrical formation than in the VISTA Lounge and seem to have more pockets and alcoves or people to get tucked into for private conversations and such before shows or at other times during the day. Although this doesn’t maximize the seating capacity that this venue could offer, it provides a nice loose feeling which goes had in hand with what the cruise lifestyle is all about and still allows for pretty decent sight lines from around the room.

Technical support in Explorer’s Lounge is usually provided by two individuals. A technician/crew chief who runs the sound and lights, and a back stage assistant who looks after any on-stage needs during the course of the show. Just as there was a step down in what’s possible when we went from the Princess Theatre to the VISTA Lounge, there is a similar step down in terms of what is possible when going from the VISTA Lounge to the Explorer’s Lounge. I’ve never really pushed the limits of any of the spaces on ships from a sound or lighting perspective as all I seem to need lighting-wise is a general wash on stage and someone to run a few sound cues for me… My low tech requirements may not fully take advantage of what’s possible, but it also means that far fewer things can go wrong and this seems to have served me well over the years I’ve been working on ships.

Much like the feeling in the VISTA Lounge, audience members walk into the Explorer’s Lounge expecting a less formal ‘presentation’ of a show, so this venue suits the style of my show quite well. Sure doing three shows in a night ends up being quite a work out, but ya never know who might be in the audience, and I always try to go out and give it my best and have a good laugh with everyone at every show.

The Vista Lounge

2009-10-21Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

And so continues the discussion of the various venues aboard Princess Ships. The Vista Lounge is what I like to call the Cabaret venue aboard many of Princess’s Ships. This venue can be a challenge for jugglers because the ceiling height is quite limited, or is when the stage is set in the ‘up’ position. Thankfully (?) my show doesn’t rely on technical juggling that requires too much in the way of height and I can play quite successfully on the stage when the stage is in the ‘up’ position and as it only takes about 20 – 30 seconds to lower the stage for when I need a bit more ceiling height when I perform on my unicycle I keep the stage up for the majority of the show then have the tech crew lower the stage right at the very end prior to me getting up on the unicycle.

Why not keep it down for the entire performance you might ask? Well the nature of the seating arrangement allows for good for sight lines from about the knees up when the stage is in the up position, but only from about the mid-chest up when the stage is lowered. I prefer to keep the stage up for the greatest visual appeal until I get to the end of the show when I absolutely need the extra space for riding and juggling on my tall unicycle.

The seats in this particular venue are arranged in an arched configuration which provides and excellent view of the stage from just about every seat in the house. There are a few support poles in some of the Vista Lounges on some of the ships that impede the sight lines somewhat, but for the most part this arched arrangement works very well. These arches are made up of both sofa like seats as well as individual soft seated chairs and there are an ample supply of small tables for drinks and a bar at the back of the room which lends itself well to the more ‘cabaret‘ feel in this particular venue.

Technical support in Vista Lounge is usually provided by three individuals. The Crew Chief who runs the sound and lights, the Stage Manager back stage who looks after things like raising and lowering the stage (in my case) and may assist a bit with staging needs and the third member of the crew is quite often a spot light operator. Though the lighting effects that can be created in this venue aren’t nearly as sophisticated as those that can be achieved in the Princess Theatre, quite a bit can still be achieved with the creative use of what this venue does offer. Also, as you can see in the image, speakers are hung from the ceiling around the venue and provide excellent coverage for the room so that the quality of the audio is evenly distributed through out the space.

Give the choice of playing the Princess Theatre and the Vista Lounge I tend to opt for the Vista as I like the fact that the audience is in closer proximity to the stage. This allows for much stronger interaction with the audience which is something that my show relies on heavily. Being able to hop off the stage and virtually be in the middle of the crowd brings an immediacy to my performances with is much more in keeping with my training working as a street performer and in festival environments. The other nice thing about this space is that it can accommodate about half the number of people (if that) that the Princess Theatre can so if you’ve got a small-ish crowd it’s still a lot of fun to play in this space as it feels fuller than the Theatre would with similar numbers.

For what ever reason people also seem to walk into the Vista Lounge more prepared to play. In the Princess Theatre there seems to be a sense of the fourth wall being somehow more appropriate and shows in that space tend to have a more presentational nature. Shows in the Vista seem to lend themselves more to breaking that fourth wall and mixing things up a little bit more.

The Piazza

2009-10-14Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Last week I started an in-depth look at the venues aboard Princess Cruises various ships with a look at the Princess Theatre. Today I thought I’d go from a discussion of the ‘main room’ to what many might consider the extreme opposite end of the spectrum – The Piazza.

A bit of background on the space itself… The Piazza first appeared aboard the Crown Princess when she was launched in June of 2006. The atrium on this ship was designed to emulate an Italian Piazza or town square with a variety of shops and restaurants around the permitter and up and around the other two decks that opened onto the space. Now the story I heard was that Martin Hall, an English guy and also head of entertainment for Princess Cruises wanted to include a ‘Street Program‘ and incorporate performers like the ones he was familiar with from Covent Garden into this space to give Princess Passengers a new, exciting, never before seen on sea, entertainment experience by bringing street theatre to his ships and it proved to be a success. Performances in the Piazza proved to be so popular that the space was also incorporated into the next two Princess ships that launched, Emerald Princess (2007) and Ruby Princess (2008) were also designed with the Piazza space and base on it’s success there, three other ships, Golden Princess, Grand Princess and Star Princess were retro-fitted during 2009 with a Piazza space.

As you may be able to gather from the photo that accompanies this post, there is a main circular mosaic which in essence represents the stage. As you stand on this stage you face a small stairway where audience members will often gather if they’re enjoying the show. Tables and chairs are set up around the space on a couple of different levels and are usually well populated by audience members. The stage itself is located on deck five, and there are staircases that rise to deck six and seven which both open up to provide balcony viewing opportunities for those interested in standing and watching the shows from above. During my most successful shows in this space it’s been standing room only on deck five, fully lined stairways from decks five to six and from decks six to seven and audience lined up around all of the balconies as well.

This wide open ceiling space is wonderful for me as a juggler as I don’t have to worry about high throws as much as I do in some of the other Princess venues. Another really nice thing about this space is the fact that the acoustics are quite bright which makes the space feel livelier. In the Princess Theatre which I described last week the soft seats, the carpeted floors and the upholstered wall panels absorb the sound, but in the Piazza, the tile floors, and harder surfaced walls mean that the sound bounces around a bit more keeping the energy in the space a bit more dynamic.

Technical support in the Piazza isn’t quite as extensive as it is in the other venues aboard ship, but because this space also gets used for other events like the Captain’s Cocktail, the Champaign Waterfall, Cocktail Demonstrations, Game Shows, etc. most technical requirements can be accommodated. There is always a technician assigned to the space during performances who can run sound cues and assist with minor staging requirements, but for the most part, the more self contained the performer is the better.

The ‘street theatre‘ shows that are scheduled in the Piazza are fit in around other acts that traditionally perform in the ship’s atrium. Most often this means a variety of musical acts. I’ve worked on ships with piano players, jazz guitarists, string quartets and multi-instrumentalist. Typically the musicians are programmed for 30 – 60 minute sets where as all of the ships that I’ve performed on with the Piazza, the ‘Street Performers’ are scheduled for 10 – 15 minutes.

Now, coming from a street performance background, and in particular one where I’m used to doing shows that run from 30 minutes to an hour, a 10 – 15 minute time slot feels like I’m just getting started. I treat my shows in this space as a bit of a game with the audience getting increasingly involved in the performance and sometimes even after having done a 25 minutes spot (well over the required time) the audience will demand that I give them more… This is both enormously flattering and a real pleasure when it happens. All this to point out that although the time requirement is 10 – 15 minutes, there is flexibility if you want to play longer.

To be honest I think Princess is still trying to work out how to best use this space and are trying a variety of different performers and styles in it to see what works best. I’ve seen everything from roving characters who wander though the space during a 15 minute stint to vegas style cabaret acts who do their 8 minute act and promptly leave to stage magicians who use the space for a demonstration of close up magic to actual street performers who totally ‘get it.’

It’s always amusing to me when I join a ship and see people’s reactions to working in the Piazza. Some look at it as ‘below them’ as though they’re doing a show in a hall-way, a shopping mall, not a proper stage at all, but every venue can be a gold mine of opportunity if you approach it with the right attitude and likely because of my years of experience performing on the street I walk into this space and have some of the most enjoyable shows that I’ve ever done on ships in this space. Like so many things, it is what you make it, so why not make it fun!

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