I get it. I am just as you are with this pandemic. Like you, my life as an actor has been dormant for almost two years and the job if an actor has gotten more and more challenging. But, all is not lost. I am here to tell you that there are plenty of things you can do as an actor to improve your craft and continue growing as an artist. It was apparent to me in the beginning of the shut down. In some ways, I welcomed the break from chasing down acting opportunities through online submissions. I could do with the traffic going to and from the set, theatre, or casting meetings. Be careful what you wish for. After about a week, I was ready to grab my mask and head over to each of the major studies in town and demand to read for any part. Then came Zoom. An opportunity to still participate in the pursuit of acting jobs was just an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook away.
Online casting wasn’t invented during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, most every audition I attended was either recorded or stream to directors and producers on location. The difference with using the internet for casting as the only way to cast actors, would become the norm. What about acting classes, performances, and films. Zoom was the home of comedy improv, plays, and even online coaching sessions. My frustration grew, but so did my perseverance as an actor to envelope myself in my craft.
I figured that this pandemic and being an actor would be a formidable challenge to overcome. So, I decided to focus my energies in things I could control. I watched movies and television shows specifically to study and reverse engineer the brilliance of my favourite actor. Their commitment to character and the engagement the actors had with their scene partners and their own scripted arcs. I read plays and practiced monologues. I would use my iPhone to record myself performing monologues and then put my performance under the same scrutiny that I afforded Streep, DeNiro, Cumberbatch, and Coleman, to name a few. I also ventured into online I would also use FaceTime to connect with fellow actors and do scenes or chat about the craft. To be the passion alive I also felt that “being in class” was another avenue to explore. Online acting classes or coaching sessions were available and still are. I was, at first, a bit sceptical. I taught classes in person with a room full of people performing in front of me. I brought in concepts and exercises that were dependant on an in person experience. But, what I have now found out is that these online acting experiences can be beneficial. As of this moment it is the only game in town, but the doesn’t mean we can’t benefit as actor by this experience. The other thing to consider is that whomever is watching you through their screens are watching you perform on camera from anywhere in the world. If you are contemplating a career in front of the camera, this is an opportunity to see how believable you come off on camera.
There are enough challenges in an actor’s life not to consider all aspects of acting and learning your craft. We cannot wait for the virus to dictate our passion for storytelling and inhabiting interesting and relatable characters. An Online experience isn’t a replacement for the in person experience, but it is the best we got at this moment.
Javier Ronceros has worked with numerous award winning actors, producers & directors over a 30 year career in Television, Film and theatre. He co-starred with Mark Wahlberg in the 2019 film “Instant Family.” He has taught Acting at the SAG Conservatory Los Angeles, American Film Institute, privately for many years and is also a Director and Writer.
So – you were chosen for the job . . now what? As mentioned in Part I, you will probably be required to rehearse at a land-based facility (many Cruise Lines are U.S. based) and for this you will be flown out and accommodated. You will require a valid Passport and you may require a medical examination prior to leaving your home – this latter is to determine that you are healthy and physically capable (once onboard, you may be required to become part of the Ships’ Safety Crew and, in the unlikely event of an emergency, you will be trained in your role but the Ship will not want to employ someone who may become a liability in such a case). You may also require what is called a ‘Seaman’s Book’ before joining – these details will be explained to you by the Company and may include addresses of medical facilities near you that work with Cruise Lines, etc. Once the appropriate documentation is in place, you will receive flight details and pretty soon, you’re on your way! Upon reaching your destination, you will typically be met at the Airport by a Ships’ Agent who will take you to either your accommodation or directly to a Vessel – you should, essentially, be hand-held as a Company does not want the liability or additional expense of having someone wandering around an unfamiliar City and potentially missing the Ship.
Once you arrive dockside, your documentation will be processed and now it’s “to the Gangway” and you’re finally boarding. You will be met and signed into the Ship’s records then taken to your Cabin. This first day is usually a long one – rising early morning to be shuttled to the Ship, then paperwork and meeting your department head (Cruise Director or Entertainment Director), along with other members of the team then you’ll tour the Ship in order to familiarize yourself with your home for the next few months. You’ll see Passengers disembarking as you embark then the Ship will be thoroughly cleaned and prepared for a new set of Passengers, who will embark during the course of that day before the Ship sets sail (usually early evening) for your first Cruise. The excitement of a Sail-a-way Party, concentration during the ‘Boat Drill’ (this happens on the first day of every Cruise, where Passengers and Crew muster to their emergency stations then Lifeboat stations to ensure everyone knows where to go), grabbing meals, seeing the Ship on her first evening with all public venues open and busy . . it’s exhausting and particularly so if you’ve travelled halfway around the World the night before!
Rehearsals will begin almost immediately, in order to bring everyone into the Shows as efficiently as possible. Rehearsals on the main stage can only be done when the venue is not required/scheduled for Passenger use, so you may find yourself at late-night rehearsals but definitely on Port-Days, as there are usually very few Passengers onboard; not with a cool, shoreside experience awaiting them! Don’t worry – you’ll have the chance to visit these Ports, but don’t forget you’re working, and the focus is on bringing the Entertainment up to par as quickly as possible, so be prepared to see your first Ports of Call from the Ships’ rail! Once the team/cast has settled into the Shows, extensive rehearsals are not usually required and you’ll be free to wander the Ports with your new-found friends. A word of caution: Always take note of the Ships’ sailing times and ensure you leave plenty of time to be back onboard before she sails! The Captain will not wait for you. Docking in a Port is a very expensive event and the times have been pre-arranged many months, if not years ahead. Even Passengers won’t have the luxury of a Ship waiting for their late arrival . . . they’ll ‘simply’ have to fly to the next Port of Call (assuming there aren’t many days at sea between Ports). On longer itineraries, there may be several days at sea (think Atlantic Crossings or Los Angeles-to-Hawaii, for example . . . these are voyages that take several days with nothing but the Ocean in between), so prepare yourself accordingly.
It might seem obvious, but when the Ship is traveling the ‘rolling’ is noticeable. Naturally, Cruise Lines tend to schedule itineraries that don’t coincide with Storm Seasons and the Captain can often re-navigate around rough weather but note that it’s not all completely smooth. For Dancers, this will have quite an effect on how you handle the choreography as, depending on whether the Ship is on a ‘rock’ or a ‘roll’, any lifting or leaping will require adjustments! This can be fun, but awareness will help you remain injury-free. There is an extensive Hospital onboard most vessels, with Doctors and Nurses manning a sophisticated facility – usually, there are Crew Hours for non-emergencies.
The bottom line is this: Working onboard a Cruise Ship can be a wonderful, rewarding experience where Crew and sometimes even Passengers become lifelong friends. You will definitely gain an education and become more World-Wise . . . whilst being fed & paid! “Bon Voyage!”
We recently sat down with Dancer, Choreographer, Director, Actor Eartha Robinson to ask her to share some of her thoughts with us about the Performing Arts business. Originally from Harlem, New York, Eartha studied at the ‘famed’ High School of Performing Arts. After performing in the original cast of The Wiz on Broadway, she moved out to Los Angeles with the cast of the popular TV series Fame! and went on to perform, choreograph, etc. with many established Artists, on Award Shows, Music Videos, TV & Film. Currently, Eartha still works in ‘The Industry’ but is the Founder and co-Creator of a Performing Arts school called THE H.E.ART (Heartfelt Education through the ARTs), located in the ‘H.E.ART’ of our North Hollywood (‘NoHo’, for the uninitiated!) Arts District.
We started our conversation by asking what was the secret to her success on Broadway and elsewhere?
E: I attribute my success for Broadway, TV, Film, Theatre – no matter what – on being prepared. Be prepared through training and technique . . . getting the best training & technique is everything. Find out what is going on in your area, keeping your finger on the pulse and never giving up – there is a technique to everything from auditioning to getting the job (and keeping the job!) so you’re always aware of your surroundings & where you want to go. You have to set goals for yourself – where do you see yourself a few years from now? Always want to do more and improve on what you did the day before in your craft. Training is everything – You have to put yourself in the position of always being ready when an opportunity presents itself. Voice Lessons, Dance Lessons, Acting Lessons – take them all. There should be no such thing as ‘I’m just a Dancer’ or ‘I’m just a Vocalist’, for example – it’s all about the bigger picture that is Stagecraft. Technically, emotionally it’s about being ready.
We then asked about the kind of challenges someone might face, as a Performer. Eartha gives out one of her signature infectious laughs.
E: “No! . . . No!” is the challenge, because someone is always going to tell you “No!” and that, in itself, is a challenge. If you’re prepared, ready to go forward, those ‘No’s’ can become steppingstones in your learning curve, to find a way around that challenge for a positive outcome. Right now, we’re in this unprecedented Covid environment but we have to find a way around it so your heart, the true form of the Artist cannot be held back, and we look for other ways of accomplishing something, expressing something in a different way – perhaps even better than before. Simply put, there are always hurdles that life puts in our path & success lies with those who find a way over or around them – such things force us to think differently, keeping us on our toes and this can ultimately be good for us, challenging us to find another way of approaching something.
On asking about Eartha’s Performing Arts school, Eartha responded . .
E: Opening up a Dance School was something I hadn’t really thought about doing, but I knew that I wanted to give back. I love giving back, so that’s what I started doing – I love the Arts and I know where it’s brought me from, and where it continues to take me and I want to give that insight and passion to others who may have very little exposure to Arts in their lives. So many of our Kids today have no involvement with the Arts and have no way to express themselves creatively: to discover that they are special, different and that being unique . . . and perhaps a little eccentric, is OK! So, I opened up The H.E.ART (Heartfelt Education through the ARTs) in the hopes that I could share what I have and my dreams for and with others and generally to do my part in trying to make the World a better place. I believe this comes with knowing the Arts & being self-expressive – not being afraid to let your own voice be heard.
Finally, we asked Eartha what tips she might give upcoming Dancers . . .
E: Training, Training, Training – seek out the best places to train & don’t limit yourself to one thing – for example, HipHop can be informed by studying Ballet, Modern and Jazz techniques, etc.
Never be late – In New York, our teachers, choreographers and directors used to say “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late . . . . you’re fired!”, meaning you have to respect your time and the time of others, showing that you’re committed to your craft.
Find Hobbies – hobbies are good, they help define who you are and they give people a more well-rounded sense of who you are and what you’re capable of.
Find other people to study with. Break out of your usual routines, get out of your comfort zone. Read. A lot! (No, seriously!!)
Be kind to others – take care of people who are working for you & working with you.
Love your craft and keep working on your craft. If you’re doing it right, you should never feel you’re finished and that you’ve learned everything there is to learn – there’s always something more, so you should never, ever stop learning.
Lastly, I would wish everyone has a blessed 2021 – Come and see us. We love Artists!! Mask-Up/Dance On!
Martin Hall joined Princess Cruises’ Los Angeles offices in 1984, having previously been an international professional musician. Starting by applying his knowledge of music, live entertainment, etc. he came up through the ranks in the Entertainment & Passenger Programs Department, booking musicians and dealing with all facets of the onboard entertainment requirements, including being part of the design team for new ship builds. Becoming a vice president in the early 80s, he oversaw the hiring of on-board staff, including dancers, singers, production staff, social staff, youth staff and guest entertainers. He developed exciting onboard programming – both daytime and night time – from branded passenger participation events to spectacular, bespoke production shows incorporating a cast of 17 along with a live band. In 2004, Princess Cruises also took on managerial responsibility for the historicCunard Line & P & O Cruises, Australia – a fleet of 22 Ships at one point! Martin retired from the cruise industry in 2013 but currently runs a production company in Los Angeles, incorporating its own multiple dance studio and theatre complex.
Do you like being on stage and the center of attention? Do you like to entertain people? Do you like bringing joy and amazement to audiences. Do you want to perform an artform that you can do anywhere in the world and to audiences of any age?