Don’t miss the first part of A Week In The Life Of A Cruise Ship Musician!
We set sail from Juneau late Wednesday evening, sail overnight, and arrive in our next port, Skagway, early in the morning on Thursday. As in the other ports, we have most of the day to do as we please, either going ashore, or relaxing in our cabins before reporting to soundcheck for the evening’s show.
The show Thursday is what the cruise industry calls a “production show”, which involves the cast of singers and dancers performing an original show written and produced specifically to be performed in the main theater of the ship. On this ship, the cast consists of four vocalists and ten dancers. The show is highly choreographed, with glittery costumes, and plenty of automated moving lights, pyrotechnics and set pieces. It also employs a team of six technicians, stagehands, and dressers. The show is performed to a click track to synchronize with the automation, and includes some extra background vocal and instrumental sweetener tracks as well. The show runs about 45 minutes in length and is performed twice in the course of the evening after the passengers have re-boarded the ship.
Leaving Skagway Thursday evening, we head south and spend all of Friday and most of the day Saturday sailing to our next port, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
During our day at sea on Friday, we’ll have a rehearsal for Saturday’s big passenger-participation extravaganza, which is a take-off on one of those reality-TV vocal competition shows. In a nutshell, it’s basically passenger Karaoke performed with the live show band. At this first rehearsal, the band gets together with eight selected passengers (who have been chosen through an audition process) and rehearse the songs they’ve chosen to perform in the big show on Saturday afternoon. The passengers are coached throughout the process by two of the vocalists from the onboard production shows. This rehearsal will usually last about 90 minutes.
Friday evening, we have two performances of a different production show with the singers and dancers in the main theater. On this particular ship, this show has been developed alongside the Tony and Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, and features a selection of songs from his Broadway shows and movie scores, along with some new music written specifically for the show. This is one of four shows that Schwartz is developing with the cruise line, and is proving to be an audience favorite – there’s rarely an empty seat at either performance.
On Saturday, we have the final tech rehearsal and run-through of the passenger Karaoke extravaganza show in the morning, with the actual performance taking place in the afternoon, prior to our arrival in port. Once this show is over, my workday is complete. Counting the rehearsal, soundcheck, and performance, I’ve worked just slightly more than 2 hours. We arrive in Victoria around 7 Saturday evening and I’m free to explore the city until midnight, when the ship sets sail on it’s final leg of our return trip to Seattle.
We arrive back in Seattle at about 7am Sunday, completing our cruise and beginning the process of disembarking the passengers and sending them on their way. I leave the ship as early in the morning as possible and usually spend the day exploring downtown Seattle. I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to go shopping for any supplies I might need for the upcoming week, see the sights, get a haircut, or just visit with friends and colleagues in the area. By 2pm, I’ll have returned to the ship, which by that time has been completely restocked, refueled, and reloaded with a new group of travelers, eager to begin the next week’s voyage.
While the schedule is fairly consistent from week to week, there are some variations which occur from time to time. We’ll occasionally have a guest entertainer of some kind come aboard to perform one or two shows, and extra rehearsal will be required. We usually get about 45 minutes to an hour to soundcheck and rehearse the show in the afternoon before performing it that evening. We’ll also occasionally play a dance set or background music for a special event party or some other function.
As you can see, a cruise ship musician in the showband will perform in a variety of situations over the course of a one-week cruise. Although the amount of work on any given day is usually not very extensive, you’ll need a wide variety of skills and experience in order to perform the job well. In a future article, I’ll go into more detail about life onboard the ship and the skills you’ll be expected to have should you decide to pursue a job as a cruise ship musician. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to post a comment with your questions – as always, I’m glad to answer.