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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!

One Response to “The Piazza”

  1. […] opted for the non-verbal version of my show that I usually do when I perform in the Piazza on Princess Ships. For some reason this non-verbal version of my show seems to work better in this […]

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