By Amanda Woodbine
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Bishop, a 27 year old musical theatre performer from a dance background from Queensland, Australia. He has been working full time as a performer for 11 years now with prestigious companies such as Disney and Royal Caribbean. With cruise ship audition season coming up, readers might find some useful tips to help get their career as a dancers started. Here he answers some questions about his experiences and working as a performer on cruise ships.
– How did you get into dancing in the first place and what was your training growing up?
I Remember making sets out of cardboard and costumes out of everything, covering lamps in coloured cellophane and putting on shows in front of my house to annoy the neighbours. The driveway was my stage and the garage door was my curtain. My mum thought her weird 6 year old son might “fit in” at a dance class, so off I went in my bike shorts and hideous rats-tail haircut. I Studio hopped around Brisbane for years until at age 12 I found Lenore Robbins (now on the Gold Coast) and stuck with her until I started working. I Started competing solo in eisteddfods from age 11. I Mostly choreographed my own solos so I had the freedom to experiment and I learnt a lot about myself as a performer. I came up with some great ideas … and some terrible ones. The important thing was that I grew as a performer. Unlike most dancers, I never attended a full-time dance course. I had enough ability to get my first job and I learnt as I went and just kept growing. Since I started working, I still take casual classes when I can, usually only between contracts. I’ll try any professional level casual (or “walk-in”) class I can find. One of my favourite jazz technique teachers is Robert Sturrock (now in Melbourne) I attended his classes religiously between a few of my contracts and he really helped me further develop my technique.
– What was your first professional contract?
I was a dancer in “Encore!” at Tokyo Disney Resort in 2005. The show has since been replaced with “Big Band Beat!”
– What contracts have you done since then?
I Returned to Tokyo Disney the following year as a singer/dancer for the closing cast of “Sail Away!” 2009, followed by two more Tokyo Disney dancer contracts in “One Man’s Dream II” 2007 and 2008. I Started working for Royal Caribbean International as a dancer in 2009 and did 3 contracts with them until 2012. I Returned to Tokyo Disney a 5th time in 2012 – 2013 as a dancer/tapper in “Big Band Beat” which had great sentimental value to me as it was where I performed my first professional show 7 years earlier!
– Who is your current contract with?
I’m currently performing as the swing and dance captain on board Disney Cruise Line’s newest vessel, the Disney Fantasy, based out of Florida (near Disney World) sailing to the Caribbean. We perform 6 different shows, including “Aladdin” and 5 other original shows combining many Disney characters and story lines.
– Can you please explain to our readers what being a swing and a dance captain is?
A Swing is a member of the cast who learns multiple roles in a show. A Swing rotates their different roles, or is on stand by to step in (even during a show) if another cast member is unable to perform. I Am currently swinging 6 different shows, and I know 6 – 10 roles in each show. I Have over 40 roles or “tracks” in total. I cover all dancers, ensemble, and some singers and leads. A Swing needs to be a quick learner and a versatile performer. Most performances feel like a first dress rehearsal AND opening night – because they are. Learning the shows as a swing really changed my learning process. I Didn’t know I was mentally capable of learning so much material. Rather than focusing on one role, I look at the show as a big picture, then slot myself in as part of that picture. It has been a challenge but has really helped me grow as a performer and has made me a faster learner.
A Dance captain is responsible for maintaining the choreography, blocking and staging, and direction of the shows set by the choreographers and directors. When I’m not swung into a show, I watch from the audience and take notes on choreography and direction that needs cleaning or correcting and run the appropriate rehearsals to maintain the show. A Dance captain often acts as a middle man between the cast members and stage managers, directors and choreographers. The role of swing and dance captain are often combined, as the swing knows everyones role and is sometimes available to watch from the audience. If a dance captain is in the show, they can take notes by watching a video of the performance.
– What life on a cruise ship is like as a performer?
I think a lot of people imagine lying on the beach everyday and partying every night, but it isn’t all sun and fun. It’s a unique experience and it is a lot of fun, but it is still a job. Most performers love it, but some do not. I think people generalise cruise ship contracts and expect that they are all the same. Just like any gig on land, every ship contract is different. You might have a private cabin, eat at the guest buffet every night, and have no cruise staff duties, OR you could share a tiny cabin with another dancer with single bunk beds, eat rice and beans at the crew cafeteria every night, and host bingo and karaoke etc. Every contract is different so you need to do your research. Depending on how many nights your cruises are and how many production shows you have on board, you might only perform 1 night a week, or you could be performing every single night. I think some people imagine outdated, low quality shows, but the truth is that there is a great range of shows on cruise ships. Just like in theatres on land, there are some fantastic shows, and there are some not-so-fantastic shows. The cruise industry has come a long way, especially in the last few years. Royal Caribbean has Broadway shows like Hairspray, Chicago and Saturday Night Fever, and Norwegian Cruise line has Rock of Ages and Legally Blonde. There are also some fantastic original shows too in all kinds of styles – everything from aerial acrobatics to rock music revues and ballroom dance shows. Most companies rehearse on land (usually in the US) prior to boarding the ship. It is very rare for a performer to start rehearsals alone and be placed in an existing cast. Usually, an entire new cast rehearse together, debut together, and complete their contract at the same time. You should expect to rehearse 8 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week, and learn a show in 2 – 3 weeks, then move on to the next show. The rehearsal process is intense but often the most enjoyable part of the contract. Most dancers get the hang of it within the first week and you’ll be surprised how your learning process actually speeds up. Once your cast has learnt all the shows, you’ll board the ship, rehearse on stage and debut your shows. Your choreographers and directors will leave the ship and hand the reigns over to your stage manager/s, vocal captain, and dance captain/s.
– What advice can you give to our dancers regarding the path they should take if they want a career in dance?
Ask yourself what your long term, short term, and immediate goals are in your career. Where do you want to go, and how can you get there? You’re an individual. You don’t have to do the same full-time dance course that your best friend is doing. If your ballet teacher insists that you could be a prima but you want to do musical theatre… go do musical theatre. You do you. Be yourself. Find who you are as a performer. Try everything. Sing, act, fly on a trapeze. Do what you’re good at, work with that, and improve your weaknesses. Maybe the kid next to you is a better turner, but you’ve probably got something they long for too. Take classes with many different teachers. One off classes and workshops are great. Learn something from every teacher, choreographer, and director you have. Learn something from every dancer in every class, everyone in that audition, and every cast member you work with. Be inspired by your peers and inspire your peers. Learn from your mistakes and others mistakes. Go for it. Go to auditions. Make your dreams come true. If you snooze, you lose. Go get ’em!
Steven Bishop – Cruise Ship Entertainer
By Amanda Woodbine