Many performers who have worked on cruise ships for years still don't really understand what goes on behind the scenes. They worry about guest ratings, what happens if they have a poor show or who to contact if they have a problem. In this podcast I talk to Royal Caribbean Cruise Director Jerome Sueur and ask the questions you always wanted to ask but never had the chance.
How to perform to an international audience
Like most Cruise Directors Jerome will see all the Guest Entertainer shows at least once. He speaks seven languages so works primarily in the European market where there can be up to 72 different nationalities on board. That's a challenge and he needs particular skills from his acts. The most obvious is the facility to speak at least a little in another language but there are more things:
- A repertoire that connects with different nationalities and demographics.
- The flexibility to change your act depending on the audience.
- At least acknowledging people from the main countries represented in the audience.
If you're booked to perform on a ship look at the where the cruise starts to give you an idea of who you audience will be. Obviously if it's coming out of Southampton you'll have mostly British, Barcelona will be Spanish, Miami will be American will a lot of Cuban and Spanish speakers, Vancouver will be mostly English speakers.
The easiest audience is when they all speak the same language – at least you know what you've got to do. The most challenging are the cruises that “inter-port” meaning passengers embark and disembark in more than one port. It's no uncommon to have a third of the guests speaking one language, a third another and the rest a real mixture. Often English is the least spoken language on board.
It's not just language you have to be aware of. There is huge cultural differences you need to be sensitive to. Even between American and British audiences. I make lots of subtle changes to my performance style depending on who is on board.
If languages are not your thing but you want to work at sea, try to get work on those ships based out of places like Southampton or Galveston where most of the guests are from one country and speak one language.
Of course this is all a moot point (should that be “mute”?) if you're a mime or speciality act and don't speak at all in your show. That alone would make you an ideal choice for an international audience.
Most cruise lines will conduct some kind of guest satisfaction survey to gather feedback from the guests on all aspects of their cruise. Guest Entertainers are part of that. Some acts continually fret about their ratings, especially if they feel they didn't have a great night. They shouldn't be too concerned especially if they have a track record. The cruise lines look for trends. If you have done well for years and you have the odd bad night, no one will be too worried – it happens, and often it's little to do with the act. The weather could have spoiled a day in the sun or the guests could be suffering with sea sickness. It's only if your ratings are consistently poor that questions will be asked.
Cruise Directors also file their own reports which help to give a professional's perspective of the acts. If you want to improve your standing with the guests Jerome suggests you “de-greet” by standing at the doors after your show to thank everyone for coming. It's a chance for them to meet you, say hi and take a photo. It makes you more approachable and the show more memorable for them.
Jerome doesn't think his acts need to worry about mixing with the guests at other times. Of course he loves it when he sees them socialising with the guests but he wouldn't think any less of an act if they keep to themselves. You should do whatever you feel comfortable with.
I have heard that some cruise lines do have a reputation for acting unfairly towards their artistes. Thankfully they are the minority and Royal Caribbean is not one of them. If you're not getting the work you'd expect from a line it may be more to do with your agent that anything else. Keep a good dialogue with your agent so you keep at the forefront of his or her mind, especially when they the cruise lines are booking.
I've met many acts over the years who make a beeline for the Cruise Director so they can kiss ass. Not necessary. When you get on board do try to make contact so you can introduce yourself and say 'hi'. That should be enough. They are busy people and don't have time to hang out with all the acts on board. My advice is just concentrate on doing your job well and be judged on your performance. Certainly don't bother the Cruise Director with day to day problems. If you have any issues your first line of contact will usually be your Production Manager.
Normally the Cruise Director will introduce the act on stage. They often like to do this because it gives them valuable face-time with the audience, especially on a short cruise. If your show is designed for a cold start (like mine) try to be flexible. If the Cruise Director wants to introduce your show you should make that possible. Give them the choice. Remember, it's not all about you.