16th June 2021
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Show Creation on Cruise Ships: Another Opening, Another Show

Show Creation
By Brittany Zimber

“This will be my only contract” ……….. 13 years later.

But in 2005 when I started my first contract, I said that. Multiple times. Okay yeah, throughout the contract and even while I was home after my first contract. I know.. I can’t believe it either! Ha!!

We signed on to the ship in Tampa Florida. Man… I thought rehearsals were difficult. Not even close comparing to an install on the ship.

ahh.. the dreaded word. “Install”

Ready for a Wild Ride?

Your cast packs their bags from rehearsals. You just spent almost two months in Florida living in apartments (now dorm rooms) and now you have to pack it all up and somehow fit it into a tiny little room onboard a Cruise Ship where you will spend the next 6-8 months (usually).

Okay let me back track quickly. I told you in rehearsals we work SIX days a week. A typical 9-5… You meet your cast. You learn your shows. You work your butts off. You deal with a hurricane or two. You have a lot of wine and a lot of Sushi & Thai, or Dominos (just make sure you don’t pass out before they deliver it.. Guilty). You try to eat healthy but you are human and hungry from burning so much energy all day long. You drink some more wine. You go to cast dinners or outings. Your first time away from home you are figuring out things like laundry and cooking for yourself.

Okay, shows are done so now to where it all really begins.

So you picked roommates. Or your roommates got picked for you. Or… you had to pull straws because no one wanted to room with someone and you got the short straw (Insertrestingbitchfacehere).

INSTALL! Bam. Here we are. Took me a minute.

You walk onto this big ship right. Trying to find your way around. It is great when you have people who know their way, but then when you are alone you realize that you were just following them all along. –Fast forward a few years and now I will walk around with new hires, or newbies to that class ship and walk behind them to help, so they end up learning their way much quicker and easier.–

So “back in my day” you had to do all of your training on the ship. Now-a-days they are kind enough to do some “new hire training” in rehearsals. Those poor new hires man… It is A LOT! I mean every day you are doing training for safety or for our standards. Learning everything from what side you wear your name tag on to what kind of fire extinguisher puts out a deep fat fryer fire. (Aww Safety Sue and how fast she could say “Deep Fat Fryer Fire”.. Memories)

Most likely you would start at 8 o’clock in the morning. On the second day this was a training for everyone that signed on the day before. You do it on every single ship you go to. This training is for everyone. It is a reminder of all the safety, security and environmental rules of the ship. Sometimes the executive committee comes in as well to introduce themselves. This includes the Hotel Director, HR Manager, Staff Captain and Captain.

Then there is a walk around of the ship with the Safety Officer. This is to show you where all the main areas of the ship are and different safety features around the ship. Sometimes the Safety Officer allows you to leave during this part IF you have done the ship or class of ship before. Some only allow you to leave if you have done that ship recently. As for me, I have done Vision Class, Radiance Class, Voyager Class and Freedom Class. Out of those, only three ships I have done twice. So… when it comes to the walk around.. I get pretty lucky as I have been on most ships in those classes. (flips hair)

New hire training…. May God Bless you all.

Side Note: I will say on most ships I have been on the Safety and Security Officers have been very helpful when it comes to the cast install. I have had them do separate training for the cast at certain times that work around the install schedule. This is a HUGE help as we only have so much time and specific times in the theatre. (Shout Out to all my Safety Officers out there. You guys are my favorite.. shhh.. Don’t tell anyone else.)

As for the all of that new hire training. They might have it from 8 am until noon. Take an hour lunch. Then we would be in the theatre from 1 until 4. Then there is always a headliner rehearsal, and then shows that night. So as I said… We only have so much time. Sometimes we might be in the theatre from 8-12 and then the new hires might have training from 1 until 4. I have also had rehearsal after the show’s finished that night. Some days there won’t be much training and you might get lunch sent to the theatre. I would like to state that we have very strict rules about the amount of hours a day we work and the amount of hours a day we rest. This means, when the schedule is being put together the Production Manager and Install Director need to be very understanding as to what hours we can and can’t work. Also, you have to remember that even if the cast is finished for the day.. The Production Manager and Stage Staff have to continue working in the theatre that night. As you can see, install is difficult for e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e.

Literally the most 20 minute power naps I have ever taken in my life. Ten minute power nap you say? Been there, done that.

Depending on the show (I know I say that a lot but they are all so different), it could take you anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks to open a show. Install could be anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months!! It is exhausting. (After putting up the actual shows you also must “put up” the singers sets, dance classes and mystery theatre! So it isn’t quite done even after the shows are opened.) Not only are you putting up shows for the first time in the theatre but you are learning your way around the ship. It is always so exciting signing on to a new ship as you are meeting soooo many new people. And to say they are excited about the new cast signing on is an understatement. HAHA My ship people feel me? Wink.

So we have the meeting of a hundred new people, learning safety, security, things about the environment, how to greet and smile, no you can not sleep with a guest, who the cruise director is to you, how awesome the safety officers normally are, what it’s like to be stared at from 50 different nations at the same time while you are lugging around your 4 suitcases to get to your room, how much shit you can’t actually fit into your tiny room, what goat curry tastes like, among many many other things. All of that isn’t even including your actual job.

You are now doing the shows in a theatre instead of a studio. You are performing for an audience of 800 people instead of 2. Where you took that water break you now are doing a quick change, where you change literally everything on your body including your damn tights!! (Whose idea was that? Definitely not a woman.) You are learning to be open with your body and come to terms with the fact that you may be topless in front of these ice skaters or stage staff you just met 4 days ago that are now helping you quick change. The orchestra comes in and you hear the show for the first time with actual musicians and not just a track. The singers re learn what things may sound like in a big house with different monitors and tracks and drums and a full audience. There are now thousand pound set pieces coming in over your head that if you aren’t paying attention to could literally crush you. You now have stairs and hydros and a pit that go up and down that was actually just tape when you learned about it. I am telling you right now there is nothing worse than re learning stair-ography with actual stairs. – Insert Emoji with the big eyes.. like oh shit.–

At this moment I would like to apologize to so many directors for those train wrecks.

But. There is nothing better than that feeling during opening night. Even if someone gets hit in the head and lays on the floor and the choreographer of the show goes in. Even if one of your singer’s pants fall down on stage. Even if one of the singers forgets to put their mic on. Even if a girl dancer’s wig falls off and is just hanging off of her neck. Even if there is an announcement made in the theatre during the show… Live theatre is awesome! That energy on and off stage. The excitement. The nerves. The happiness and the jitters.

The Cruise Director comes on stage and announces that it is your opening night and this is your first show in front of an audience after weeks of preparation. Rehearsal Directors and Vocal Directors, Head Wig and Costumers, Install Directors and Production Managers, Stage Staff and Musicians, the Dance Captain and Vocal Captain, the Wig and Wardrobe Supervisors, the Cast. All those weeks and endless hours of rehearsals. And here you are. Putting all of your heart on the stage. Hearing the audience hoot and holler. Seeing all of the directors and costumers so proud standing on their feet. Watching your cast look around at each other with tears in their eyes. WE DID IT.

Taking that final bow. Knowing all the hard work you and your cast and EVERYONE put in to get this show up and running. Really.

There is no better feeling in the world.

That is why when I said it was my last contract all those years ago. It wasn’t.

To all the incredible people I have worked with during installs. Thank YOU!

Also by Brittany Zimber:

Defining Success: The accomplishment of an Aim or Purpose

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