Performing on cruise ships offers both experience and adventure
How’s this sound for life after graduation?
Performing professionally — singing, dancing, acting — in front of packed houses five to six nights a week, room and board paid for, and the opportunity to visit some exotic corners of the world nearly every day.
That about sums up the experience of recent CU-Boulder theatre and dance graduate Bonnie Margolin, who recently returned home after an eight-month hitch with Stiletto Entertainment, which hires performers for the Holland America line of cruise ships. Margolin was hired to perform aboard the Zuiderdam as it plied the waters of the Caribbean, Central America and Alaska.
“It was very jazz oriented, with some tap, and lyrical work. A broad variety of dance, but very showy, very entertaining production shows and numbers by Bob Mackie,” says Margolin, 23, who graduated in May 2012.
But the entertainment crew did much more than perform in the evenings. They also led dance classes for passengers during the day and even participated in a “dancing with the stars at sea” program.
“We were treated like celebrities,” Margolin says. “People would see us (onstage) four or five times a week and saw us as stars. That was really cool. It was a lot of fun.”
Performers also had more serious duties. They were technically hired as petty officers and received emergency response training and drills.
Johnny Stewart, who graduated in May 2013, will set sail himself in January on the MS Nieuw Amsterdam for an 8-month tour of the Caribbean and Mediterranean. Stewart got the job after auditioning with some 115 other people in Denver in the spring. At any given time Holland America may have as many as nine ships at sea and Stiletto is holding auditions throughout the year in different cities.
Getting the job wasn’t easy, Stewart says. The audition included learning a song in 45 minutes in round one, then two songs in 30 minutes in round two.
“At the end of the day, they identified two male singers and two female singers as finalists, people they wanted to follow up with,” he says.
There also was a “typical dance audition” in which he and two other performers were videotaped performing minute-long jazz-hip-hop-fusion piece to perform; evaluators in Los Angeles chose dancers after viewing the tapes.
Stewart, 23, was contacted by the company and told they would like to put him on a contract as part of a male quartet and to perform in a song-and-dance show.
“They wanted me mostly because of my dancing ability,” he says. “I feel very fortunate, humbled and blessed to have been chosen.”
Working in their chosen field at sea is an adventure in itself for Stiletto performers. But crewmembers also have ample opportunity to go ashore at ports of call to explore, Margolin says.
“You usually have the day to yourself, so long as you are back for show time,” she says. She visited Indian villages in Panama, went log sledding in Alaska, boating in Mexico, and zip-lining in Costa Rica, among other adventures.
The experience convinced her to try for an upcoming cruise to Europe.
Stewart says he has friends who have accepted contracts for five or six cruises. But he’s keeping his eye on his inaugural voyage.
“Ask anybody in entertainment and they say the time to do things like this is when you are young, when you don’t have mortgages and obligations. You’re getting paid to have fun,” he says. “My goal is to head to New York, and this will allow me to save up at least sis months rent and expenses. This is going to help me be successful out there.”
Johnny Stewart performing “We’re in the Money.”
Bonnie Margolin performing aboard the MS Zuiderdam.