March 12, 2011, 9:42pm (ship time)
Sea day today. After this morning's training (workplace safety! exciting!) I had to report for something called the flag parade. I dutifully showed up around noon on deck 9 to find about forty or fifty deckhands, officers, cast members, and hotel staff all waiting at the top of the centrum. The idea is that we each carry a flag representing a country that has crewmembers on board. In fact, we're even supposed to end up with the country we're from, although apparently that doesn't always happen (not enough flags to go around). I had the stars and stripes this time, although next time I think I am going to go for something else. I don't know whether I should go alphabetically or some other way . . . perhaps chronologically by date founded. Or something.
Five minutes later we had marched out around the pool deck with flags waving in the breeze . . . I can now check off "carry flag for country at olympics" from my life to-do list. The cruise director did a little presentation for the guests, who got surprisingly excited about the whole process (apparently it was a good day to be from Chile, as the guy carrying that flag got mobbed by women in bathing suits). I imagine this whole process must have been very awkward during the cold war . . . "and the NATO countries are here on the port side, with the Warsaw pact countries on the starboard . . . hooray for a world living in harmony!"
It is the last day of the cruise -- tomorrow is turnaround day in Colón. We have two farewell shows to play, which as shows go are pretty boring for the orchestra. Most of the act is done by the two "gauchos" on the cast, a pair of a specialists that until now have mystified me with their presence. They put on a darklight show -- dressed entirely in black, they disappear on a stage that is lit only with UV lights. The show is then done with fluorescent puppets that light up when hit by the light. It is a pretty cool concept -- the prerecorded track goes through a bunch of different feels, mainly synth techno with a smattering of classical and an interesting number that's in seven.
We come on for the second half of their act. The second part is a gaucho show, with drums, lassos, whips, etc. We only really play some fanfares here and there -- they bring some audience members on stage and give them roses to hold, as they cut them in half with whips. I don't really understand the connection between UV light puppets and Argentinian gauchos, but hey, whatever.
Then at the end they bring out the entire cast and we play a corny "farewell" number. That wraps up the cruise for most people.
Last night I went to go see the tango stage show, as the horns don't play in it. Tango was brought on when the ship transitioned to Panama, as Rico (the cruise director, or my boss's boss) knew that the two shows we had wouldn't really be much of a hit with the 90% Latin American audience. The tango show wasn't produced by Royal Caribbean, its actually from Vegas, and therefore has some significant differences. The instrumentation is bass, piano, violin, drums, guitar, and bandola (mandola? whatever that little accordian thing is. Spiegel would know), with a few special musicians brought onboard just for that show. There is no click track, so the music is allowed to breathe and is much more alive than the other two shows. Additionally, there are two extra dancers brought on for the show as well -- a little older than the rest of the cast (who are all mid/early 20s), they are specifically tango dancers although usually you can find them dancing salsa or whatever else is going on onboard whenever they get a chance.
Taking all of these things together, the show likely costs Royal Caribbean more than the other ones, but the result is a performance SO much better than anything else we do that I think it is totally worth it (in fact, I wish that all of our shows could be that good. I wanted to play in it!) The music is more interesting, and the guest dancers are extremely good, but best of all the show actually has narrative. There is both storytelling and humor, two elements that I think are so vital to engaging with an audience in this format that I don't know what RCCL was thinking when they wrote the other two. For example -- at one point the male lead comes into the club (the stage is set up like a nightclub) alone and dejected, and is seated at a table for one. Just as he is about to drink his whiskey, the spotlight flashes on and she is there, dancing. He is frozen, transfixed by her beauty, while she refuses to notice him. Finally, as she is about to leave, she leaves him her shawl as an afterthought. Energized by this, he downs his drink and takes the stage, bringing her back but failing to win her over in the end. It's things like this that are lacking from our other staged repertoire, which are essentially hour-long medleys of pop tunes grouped roughly by genre.
I'm learning a lot about entertaining here, and what sort of things are necessary in my role as a performer. I'm also learning what I like about particular music, and that narrative is important to me. I feel like there are so many different ways to reach an audience that the standard format of "show up with a quintet, play three sets of tunes" is incredibly limiting. If I go on the road with a band, I want to either bring some other act with me (like a stand up comedian) or I want to make music that really possesses narrative. All of my favorite albums are storytelling albums (or I make them so in my head). "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" is probably the best example of that, but even something like "Kind of Blue" has narrative arc, even if it isn't as specific in its details. This is the sort of music I want to make -- music with strong narrative.
There is also an indisputable atmosphere of sophistication that swirls around the Tango show that the other two lack. A slight bit of fog is introduced to the stage via fog machine, and it is mostly lit with spotlights or low indirect light. The end effect is that of a smokey, mysterious nightclub, and when combined with the fancy costumes the end result is a very romantic, passionate show (side note: I heard passion defined the other day as great anger combined with great love). Also, it is put on during the formal night of the cruise, and so everyone is dressed to the nines. I was in tuxedo myself, something that I find really enjoyable. Having real, quality dress clothes is the secret to actually enjoying dressing up, I think. Nothing is quite like climbing the stone centrum staircase, watching a smokey tango show and then going out on the fantail and watching the moon rise over the water, especially when you do all of these things in a tux. Maybe the novelty will wear off eventually, but it hasn't yet for this guy.