Over the last few years, the production value of performances on cruise lines has skyrocketed, and it seems the days of putting a performer’s career out to pasture on the high seas are over. Cruise lines are attracting big-name talent, Broadway choreographers, and highly skilled set designers. RWS Entertainment Group, which works with Holland America and Azamara Club Cruises, has contributed to the uptick in the quality of singers, dancers, music, and set design.
We spoke with Ryan Stana of RWS to hear about the misconception he most commonly encounters about working on a cruise ship, what to expect in auditions, and branded shows that tour cruise fleets—“much like touring Broadway productions,” he says.
What’s a common misconception about working on a cruise ship that you’d like to dispel?
We hear so often, “It’s just a cruise ship.” As if it’s “just” a paycheck and there’s nothing else to be gained from the experience, artistically or personally. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the most versatile and talented people in the industry are performing at sea right now. Our shows range choreographically from ballroom to ballet to hip-hop as well as, vocally, from pop to classical to Broadway. Dancers may come away with new aerial skills to add to their résumé while singers will come away with a broad catalog of material to add to their repertoire. Our talent also has the opportunity to work with leading industry directors and choreographers—not to mention, this opportunity allows performers to see the world and work alongside many diverse nationalities, which helps shape them as well-rounded, cultured human beings. And you can become a pretty good Jeopardy player! Yes, you can come away from a cruise ship contract with money in the bank—if you are smart—but what you gain goes so much further than that.
What does a “day in the life” look like for an RWS singer-dancer?
There really are no “typical” days. You could be waking up in different exotic locations each day and partaking in new adventures with your castmates, all while meeting and sharing experiences with people from around the globe. The part that remains constant is the focus on continued rehearsals to keep the shows in top shape, along with delivering top-level performances.
How would you describe an RWS audition?
We strive to run things as efficiently as possible and to accommodate as many people as we possibly can while creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable and encouraged to present us with the best versions of themselves. The most common feedback we get is: “That didn’t feel like an audition!” That’s what we like to hear, as our goal is to eliminate as much stress from the process as possible.
What do you look for in your ensemble on the whole?
We are looking for versatility across many styles and genres, coupled with the energy and personality to connect with an audience and keep them engaged. We also look for a general professional demeanor indicating that they will be a good employee to represent both the client and RWS brands.
What’s the biggest mistake you see in the audition room?
The biggest mistake we see is neglecting to show us what makes you unique: dancers who aren’t performing with the energy that show us they love what they are doing, or singers who are not emotionally connected to what they are singing to make a lasting impression on the panel. Make your time in the room count and show us what makes you you! Be authentic.
What’s your favorite part of the process and why?
Producing shows is my passion and I really do love every part of the process. But if I were forced to choose a favorite, I would say seeing the audience’s reaction to a final product that my team has created is the most rewarding and makes the whole process worthwhile.
Check out Backstage’s cruise lines listings!