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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.

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