From Broad­way shows to aerial artistry, it all be­gins at the Royal Caribbean Pro­duc­tions en­ter­tain­ment stu­dio.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - It's Showtime! - by SU­SAN YOUNG

Mix and match any of 91,400 cos­tume pieces, 5,000 hats, 3,400 wigs, 6,000 shoes, and 3,000 jew­elry pieces. Add in props such as a magic wand, top hat, easy chair, or even a mo­tor­cy­cle. Com­bine those el­e­ments with the cre­ative juices of a tal­ented pro­duc­tion team and top-notch per­form­ers, and presto! — You have a mag­i­cal en­ter­tain­ment pro­duc­tion that tells a story. No, it doesn’t “gel” on a Broad­way stage, a West End theater in Lon­don, or a Hol­ly­wood sound stage. Rather, the cre­ative raz­zle-daz­zle starts in­side the 132,500-square-foot Royal Caribbean Pro­duc­tions stu­dios on the Bis­cayne Bay cam­pus of Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity (FIU) in North Mi­ami. Opened in 2015, this sparkling white-and-glass fa­cil­ity rep­re­sents a unique part­ner­ship be­tween FIU and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL), par­ent of Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional, Celebrity Cruises, and Aza­mara Club Cruises. Whether the en­ter­tain­ment is a pro­duc­tion num­ber, mu­si­cal solo, Broad­way-style show, aerial artistry, or other en­ter­tain­ment genre, the goal is the same — ab­so­lute per­fec­tion.


It’s mind- bog­gling. Each night aboard Royal Caribbean’s 24 ships around the world, more than 30,500 en­ter­tain­ers per­form for more than 85,000 guests who en­ter more than two dozen on­board the­aters, 11 ice stu­dios, three AquaTheaters, and three Two70 venues, as well as myr­iad lounges and other ship­board spa­ces. Cruise pas­sen­gers are all seek­ing top- notch en­ter­tain­ment and es­capism, and if “mae­stro” Nick Weir (@ Nick­WeirShow­biz), Royal Caribbean’s vice pres­i­dent of en­ter­tain­ment, has any­thing to say about it, they’ll get just that.

“En­ter­tain­ment is made fresh for ev­ery ship,” em­pha­sizes Weir. For ex­am­ple, guests en­joy full- blown Broad­way shows in­clud­ing Cats,

Grease, and Mamma Mia! as well as en­er­getic pro­duc­tion shows such as Satur­day Night Fever and

We Will Rock You, among oth­ers. Since his suc­cess of stag­ing

Cats at sea, Hol­ly­wood, Broad­way, and West End the­atri­cal pro­duc­ers have taken no­tice. “The last three years, my phone has never stopped ring­ing,” says Weir. “Now, they want to come and play in my sand­box. We’re the cruise ver­sion of show busi­ness.”

Grow­ing up in a tra­di­tion of mar­itime en­ter­tain­ment (mom a cruise en­ter­tainer, dad a cruise di­rec­tor), Weir has also served as en­ter­tain­ment con­sul­tant and cruise di­rec­tor for Celebrity Cruises and Costa Cruises, and con­sulted for Star Clip­pers. He’s hosted/ pre­sented sev­eral U. K. tele­vi­sion net­work pro­grams in­clud­ing the

Catch­phrase re- launch. In fact, Weir re­cently was in­vited to join the Pro­duc­ers Guild of Amer­ica (PGA) based on Royal Caribbean’s Two70 Vis­tarama/RoboShow and the Ice Show pro­jec­tion.

When Weir joined Royal Caribbean, his first big pro­ject was to take the idea of a new en­ter­tain­ment pro­duc­tion stu­dio from “maybe we will do it,” to “oh, yeah, you bet­ter be­lieve it.’” In fact, “I of­ten tell Michael Bay­ley [pres­i­dent and CEO of Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional] that he thinks he’s the pres­i­dent of a cruise line, but ac­tu­ally he’s also the pres­i­dent of the big­gest en­ter­tain­ment cor­po­ra­tion on the planet,” Weir quips.

Cruise en­ter­tain­ment has evolved siz­ably from the 1980s and 1990s, both in con­tent and ap­proach. Weir re­calls that his dad was a per­former, cruise di­rec­tor, pro­duc­tion singer, and co­me­dian all rolled into one sim­ply be­cause the line didn’t have berth space for an­other per­former. In decades past, he jokes, “the cruise line would say to cruise di­rec­tors, ‘ Be funny, sing, and also run the depart­ment.’” To­day, how­ever, there’s more spe­cial­iza­tion and not just from per­form­ers, but also from spe­cial ef­fects, tech­nol­ogy, car­pen­try, and light­ing de­sign ex­perts.

“I’m trusted with a big port­fo­lio,” notes the af­fa­ble Weir, who clearly loves his job. He reg­u­larly re­views guest com­ment cards, which are much more re­veal­ing than in the past, when guests would sim­ply say, “I loved ev­ery­thing on the ship.” To­day, he says they might ac­tu­ally say, “I think the ac­tor on the sec­ond from the right could im­prove his dic­tion.” Every­one’s a critic now, Weir stresses, not­ing that even the cap­tain or ho­tel di­rec­tor will email him if some­one is rush­ing their lines.


The trea­sure trove of stor­age spa­ces over­flow­ing with props, pro­duc­tion sets, and sound/stage equip­ment is fas­ci­nat­ing. “What’s ob­so­lete on one ship, we can al­ways use later for an­other pur­pose,” notes Coach­man-Orengo. “We col­lect the left­overs” for po­ten­tial use later. The most fun was when she un­locked one stor­age space ded­i­cated to col­or­ful at­tire and ac­ces­sories for DreamWorks Ex­pe­ri­ence char­ac­ters such as Shrek and Princess Fiona, the Pen­guins of Mada­gas­car, Puss in Boots, Po from Kung Fu Panda, and oth­ers.

In ad­di­tion, the fa­cil­ity’s 20,000-square-foot cos­tume area dis­plays racks of tops, shirts, pants, and dresses, along with tuxe­dos, soft boa neck wraps, tails for Cats per­form­ers, poo­dle skirts des­tined for Grease, head­dresses, hats of ev­ery shape, pa­per bags filled with dance shoes of ev­ery size, and much more.

We watched as cos­tume builders picked out col­or­ful bolts of fab­ric and seam­stresses worked at sewing ma­chines. Brenda Bon­terre, lead cos­tume builder, showed us how she takes a de­sign sketch and cre­ates a cos­tume while Jorge Martinez, as­sis­tant milliner and cos­tume tech­ni­cian, metic­u­lously dec­o­rated a mask.

Many of the per­form­ers in train­ing live in dor­mi­tory-style build­ings near the stu­dio. The univer­sity was set to de­mol­ish th­ese, but in­stead RCCL ac­quired and re­fur­bished them. It’s only a two-minute walk from the hous­ing to the stu­dio, which is con­ve­nient for per­form­ers, says Poul­son.

Once per­form­ers in train­ing are ready to move onto a ship, they of­ten per­form for man­age­rial staff and coaches at the fa­cil­ity’s 300-seat Fin­ish­ing Stu­dio. As they then head to ships, new per­form­ers are flown in, many re­cruited by mul­ti­ple teams who travel the globe to au­di­tion 7,000 ac­tors, singers, and dancers an­nu­ally in dozens of cities.

In all en­deav­ors, per­form­ers aim to tell a story — to make that hu­man con­nec­tion to some­thing spe­cial. Yes, tech­nol­ogy will con­tinue to be cut­ting edge, Weir be­lieves, but “we never want the wow to get in the way. I’m show tune born and bred. It’s still about, and al­ways is, the per­former.” As Weir em­pha­sizes: “You’re only as good as your last show.” Lucky for to­day’s cruise pas­sen­gers, the shows will go on.

Blue Planet aeri­al­ists take the stage in Al­lure of the Seas’ Am­ber Theater.

Grease is per­formed in Har­mony of the Seas’ Royal Theater.

Nick Weir, cen­ter, with a re­hears­ing cast at Royal Caribbean Pro­duc­tions stu­dio

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