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Inside the Delightfully Quirky, Absolutely Fabulous, and Utterly Exhausting World of Cruise Performers

The performers you know from movies, TV, and Broadway represent only about one percent of the performing artists making a living today. The rest work in nightclubs, dinner theater, amusement parks, local birthday parties, and cruise ships. Cruise ships hire a wide range of performers to entertain thousands of passengers, and Princess Cruises guest entertainment manager Phil Kaler knows them all.  

The $38 billion cruise industry has boomed with Boomers, growing from 17.8 million passengers in 2010 to 25.8 million passengers in 2017. The Regal Princess is one of more than four hundred fifty active cruise ships, and each is a floating entertainment district. It typically employs a six-piece party band; a seven-piece house band; a jazz quintet; a DJ; a piano-bar lounge singer; and seventeen singer-dancers who rotate through stage shows, including two created exclusively for Princess by Wicked’s Stephen Schwartz. (Other lines feature partnerships with outfits like Cirque du Soleil, Second City, and Blue Note Records.) Last year, Kaler and his team booked four hundred sixty-eight different headliners, from “a cappella” to “xylophonist.”

“How can you please all 4,100 passengers?” Kaler asks, as he unfurls massive spreadsheets that map out his bookings across all eighteen ships. “You can’t. You give them variety.”

Seven years ago, Kahler launched the Entertainer of the Year competition for cruise performers, to reward the best artists for their hard work. The contest gets its own week-long cruise. The top prize is only $5,000, which is a couple weeks pay for cruise performers, but the recognition that comes with the title is worth it, and is especially useful for booking further jobs. Esquire magazine followed the Entertainer of the Year cruise and competition, and tells us the stories of the performers who make their living entertaining passengers. -via Digg

(Image credit: Logan Hill)  

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