Ever think about touring the world by performing aboard a cruise ship? With ever-changing destinations and audience members, life on the water has its ebbs and flows. My colleague Marcus Jackson was gracious enough to give me an interview from the docks of St. Thomas before he shoved off for another week on the water. Here he gives us the inside scoop on what his experience has been like. Is the stage at sea for you too?
KF: How long have you been working on cruise ships?
MJ: I’ve been working the cruise lines for about 5 years now. I’m on my 7th contract. I’ve done 5 contracts with Royal Caribbean and I’m on my 2nd contract for Disney Cruise Line after being in the opening cast or “take out cast” for the Disney Fantasy.
KF: What does your job entail? Are you done once the show is over?
MJ: Responsibilities vary from cruise line to cruise line. On every ship the Crew is responsible for looking after the safety and security of the ship, its guests, and other crew members. There is so much to be done as a performer on cruise ships. Dancing in the theatre shows, teaching guest dance classes, follow spotting the ice skating shows, serving as the port and shopping guide assistant, art auctioneer’s assistant, excursion guide, and club promoter are some of the tasks that I had as a dancer on Royal Caribbean. For Disney, I am the ship wide dance captain, which means I maintain the quality and give notes to the team of performers that perform in venues outside of the theatre. I also dance in the main stage shows, teach crew dance classes, represent the Main stage and character casts for crew entertainment ideas, and assist with any partnering issues that need help.
KF: How have you gotten your gigs?
MJ: I generally get gigs from postings online or at dance studios. I’ll research the gig and then join in the open call audition process. The thing about working with cruise lines is that when your contract is over and you’ve followed the rules and regulations, you will almost always be guaranteed another contract. With Disney I worked with Spencer Liff from SYTYCD for some original choreography. Generally you have rehearsal choreographers when you’re learning the shows, which pass down the original choreography from cast to cast.
KF: Do you get to choreograph any of the pieces?
MJ: I’ve choreographed small dance bits for my dance classes and actually just completed a task for Disney Cruise Line that had me choreographing an opening dance number for our all-crew assembly meetings where the “big wigs” come in and talk about enhancements and goals for the future of DCL.
KF: What is the rehearsal process like?
MJ: Generally rehearsals last about 6 to 10 weeks in a shore side dance studio specifically fitted with studio space marked out for the stage onboard. A typical day starts with rehearsal from about 9am to 1pm and then a lunch break, then rehearse more from 2pm to 5pm. You are then expected to have any mistakes corrected for the following day.
KF: What best prepared you to land these gigs?
MJ: There wasn’t anything specific that prepared me for these gigs. I guess being easy going and flexible are a great quality especially when dealing with the typically fast paced and always changing environment of a cruise ship. Having the extensive training from my BFA in Dance and consistent support and commitment always has helped.
KF: Is there anything you wish you had known before you started this work?
MJ: I wish I would have known that living onboard the ship is like living in a time capsule. No one really knows what day it is. You find yourself naming the days by the itinerary or the shows you do that day. Near the end of the contract you just start counting down the days.
KF: What are the perks? What are the compromises? Is this the kind of gig for anybody?
MJ: The perk with Royal Caribbean is that you will always have a job there and never have to re-audition or re-negotiate contracts. They’ll use you in about any of their production shows and they like having a pool of talent that can replace an injured cast member or debarking crewmember. Working for Disney, I have free access to inside information, parks, exclusives, and the upward mobility is HIGHLY encouraged.
KF: What is some good advise for dancers thinking about jumping onboard?
MJ: If you LOVE to travel with no expenses and making money that you have no obligation to spend – this is the gig for you. Be ready to give up your social life at home, easy communication with the outside world, and your sense of time. This is not a gig for the needy or people that get homesick or are overly emotional. I’ve seen people get so lost on the ship because they don’t have a strong sense of self. Every contract, I set a goal for myself, a task that keeps me focused on something positive when everyone else seems to be falling apart. No one really knows what it’s like being a crewmember until they come visit you on the ship and live a week in your shoes.
Thank you Marcus!