Stage Management on one of the World’s Largest Cruise Ships – Part 3
By Liam Klenk
In the fall of 2019, I was offered a contract as Senior Stage & Production Manager on the Oasis of the Seas, one of the World’s largest cruise ships. After the first week, my predecessor left, as did the whole production team which had just finished the creation of our new show Aqua80. I received some last good advice, email addresses and phone numbers for emergencies, and was then left pretty much to my own devices.
It was my first time working on a cruise ship.
Taking over management of the aqua theater, or any theater, on a cruise ship gets easier the more contracts on ships you have done. Even if, like in my case, the handover is cut short and no handover notes exist.
Because, mostly, all shows in all theaters on these large cruise ships are organized the same way. If you’ve done stage management in one, you’ll easily make the transition to the next one. Plus, each respective theater is built exactly the same way on each class of ship.
Thus, for a regular theater onboard, the handover process to a manager already well versed in ship life is usually 2 weeks long. For aqua theaters, since they are technically more complex and hold a higher risk-factor, 4 weeks long.
In my case, well, it was going to take as long as it was going to take. I made my peace with not getting a proper handover and would teach myself as best as I could.
There was nothing I could do about the situation but take a very long deep breath whenever I needed to. I accepted the challenge and threw myself fully and enthusiastically into the daily operation of my venue.
Thankfully, many of the technicians had done multiple contracts in the Oasis aqua theater already. I wasn’t shy to ask them many questions. I invested a lot of time getting to know everyone in the team and listened to their needs and opinions.
Whenever they approached me with questions, I rather openly faced my dilemma of being completely new to both this venue and to ships by saying honestly, “I don’t know but I’ll find out for you as quickly as I can.”
Slowly, but surely, I realized that I knew more answers. The admin side of things was the easiest to learn. I was able to ask the other aqua theater stage and production managers on other ships. Or ask experienced people shoreside.
When it came to technical issues, I was lucky to have two incredibly capable engineers assigned to the aqua theater, Jack and Tomasz.
The Oasis of the Seas showed her age when it came to our theater. Not a day went by without malfunctioning lifts, astragal problems, oil leaks, water leaks, the trampoline not turning, diving boards malfunctioning, problems with our rigging system, etc. etc. etc.
One thing I soon noticed was that I had three jobs rolled into one.
In any show on land the production manager and stage manager will be covered by two people. These are in fact two full-time jobs. On the Oasis of the Seas, I was stage and production manager, which already meant covering two separate sets of responsibilities.
Simply put, this made me responsible for absolutely everything pertaining to daily operations and maintenance of my venue.
On top of that, being a manager onboard also meant I was a two-and-a-half stripe officer. A rank which came with many additional responsibilities tied to ship safety. I was muster station leader during drills and emergencies. Emergency raft commander. I had to go to regular officer meetings. And I had to do cabin inspections as well as master inspections.
For my regular work day, this meant getting up at 8 am at the latest, since most drills and meetings began at 9 am.
Then, I was busy with officer duties and admin responsibilities until 1 or 2 pm. By this time, we usually started rehearsals, until 4 pm. On some days, the afternoons were instead filled with maintenance work on the theater pool and lifts.
Every day, we would start training and warm ups at around 5 pm until 7 pm. It was my duty to be present for every single moment our performers were in the venue.
Usually, I would try to multitask during this time, and manage rehearsals, as well as use free moments in between to catch up with all my technicians, talk about the day’s shows, line-up, and any changes from the day before.
After pre-set from 7 to 7:30 pm, I would make sure the house was ready and open.
Then, I would quickly run to the mess and grab a bite to eat. After, I would run straight back to the theater to check weather and sea conditions. Get the booth ready for the show. Call the captain, to see if he can do anything to help us with the rough seas.
And shortly before 8 pm, after speaking with the captain, the technical director, and the performers, I would decide if we would cancel that night’s show or go ahead.
It was winter. In the Caribbean this meant rough seas were the norm rather than the exception.
If all was well, we would have our first show from 8 to 9 pm. Then get everything ready yet again for the second show, fix issues that needed to be fixed if necessary, then run for another quick break.
For the 10:30 pm show, I would be back again at 10 pm, check weather and sea conditions yet again, and go through the whole process once more of doing my utmost best to battle sea conditions and improve them with the help of the captain so our show could go ahead as planned.
10:30 – 11:30 pm would be our second show of the evening. Followed by short notes meetings with both techs and performers.
After notes, I would need at least another two hours for show reports, maintenance problems, and admin.
At 1:30 am, I would usually walk slowly towards my cabin. Another day done safely and successfully. I would pour myself a glass of red wine, open a bag of chips and breathe deeply.
More often than not my ringing phone would interrupt my attempt to rest, until I would literally pass out, to be woken by either early phone calls or my alarm clock six hours later…
Read more about this intensive work and life experience in Part 4…