Despite sacrifice, cruise ship entertainer perseveres for love of performing

The multi-billion-dollar cruise industry in Singapore has seen a comeback since the relaxation of COVID-19 rules. With a brand-new Disney cruise to homeport in Singapore from 2025, to multiple sold-out dates on cruise ships, a big part of one’s cruise experience is its slew of phenomenal entertainment offerings, incorporating the latest technology with world-class performers and technicians as they perform daily to bedazzle audiences. 

However, behind the facade of well-timed dance moves and strong vocals lie dedicated cast members who brave long hours, countless rehearsals, and prolonged periods of isolation from their family and friends outside of the cruise ship, to deliver their best-of-class performances at sea.

This is very much so for 26-year-old Anna Larson, a cruise specialty performer. She is currently casted as a singer-dancer and does nightly shows aboard a 3,500 passenger-capacity cruise ship sailing worldwide. 

Born into a family bounded to arts

Coming from a small country town, Laidley in Queensland, Australia, Anna was born to crafter parents, and has been exposed to the arts from a very young age, through different mediums. 

“My mother is a ceramic artist and teacher, while my dad is a wood-work cabinet maker,” she said.

Although her parents specialized in craftwork, Anna explored a different form of artistic expression, through dance. 

“At six-years-old, I started taking ballet classes in a town 30 minutes away from where I lived, and fell in love with dance.”

She then went on to study in the Queensland Dance School of Excellence in Brisbane at age 15. Here, Anna took up dancing full-time, while keeping up with her regular education. 

Curveball with a silver lining

Constantly pushing herself to excel, Anna soon succumbed to stress fractures in her spine from overexertion.

“I knew I wasn’t going to become a professional ballet dancer due to this.”

Not giving up from a single setback, she decided to take up singing lessons, and found a renewed sense of hope in pursuing performing arts. Anna then went on to complete a diploma in performing arts in Sydney, Australia, and has worked as a professional performer ever since. 

“I love all kinds of entertainment, and I’m very lucky that I’m able to entertain people through various styles.”

Anna started her first professional contract as an entertainer at Universal Studios Singapore in 2017, and only started working onboard a cruise ship during her second contract in 2019. 

“I made this decision mostly because I wanted to experience doing full-length shows and push myself to grow as a singer.”

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and caused her contract to be cut short. She then decided to make her way back to Universal Studios Singapore to continue training and waiting till cruising was back in action. 

“I knew I wanted to work on ships again because of the exciting challenges and the chance to work on a world-class stage on the high seas.”

Anna is both a singer and dancer.

Insight into entertainment performances on a cruise ship

Anna shared the details of how a performance gets put into place aboard a cruise ship. 

“We train on land for two months where we learn the shows, dance moves, and songs. It is super intense, where we rehearse from nine to 10 hours a day, six days a week.”

The performers have to learn and master the 45 to 60-minute long shows within 10 to 12 days, before performing it in front of upper management for approval. Yet, performers do not just rehearse for one show. 

“Within the two-month time frame, we usually train for three production shows, and four themed night shows, which is hard work.”

Once all the shows receive their stamp of approval, they are then installed onboard the ships within a month. 

“The installation part includes many aspects of the show, including costumes, lights, sounds and tech, which can result in more changes.” 

Once everything is ready, the shows are then performed to crowds of over 800 guests twice a night, five nights a week – and that excludes a full-dress rehearsal of the show at least thrice weekly. 

Theatre in a cruise ship.
A cruise ship.

Often misunderstood by crew members

The life of a performer at sea is no doubt hard work, and it does not help when other crew members do not know what goes on behind the scenes. 

“It gets tough at times when the rest of the crew onboard doesn’t get to see the work we put in, including the rehearsals we do on land, and they assume we don’t do much.”

Since the theatre and performance areas are out of bounds for the majority of the crew members, they usually see performers within the guest areas, where as part of their jobs, performers provide customer service, through interaction, to the guests. And this situation gives the impression to crew members that the performers’ job involves only public relation.

Apart from her main role as a performer, Anna is also in charge of costumes for all shows, which is a big scope of work.

“We have up to seven costume changes per performer, per show, and we have a total of 22 performers.”

Life onboard a cruise ship can get arduous, since many crew members are out at sea for prolonged periods of time. What many of us may deem as a non-issue could be detrimental to someone’s mental health aboard a cruise, such as not having a stable WiFi connection as both performers and crew members depend on it as the only bridge to their loved ones.

“Staying connected with your loved ones gets really hard, since the WiFi connection can get really terrible or expensive at certain locations. Because I’m on a ship that travels globally, it’s hard for my family to keep up with the time zone I’m in too.”

These issues can be nerve wrecking and anxiety inducing, especially if it is one’s first foray into working onboard a ship. 

However, Anna shared that there are usually dedicated teams focused on employee well-being, and provide welfare programs like crew events to help raise morale. 

Another comforting prospect is that one is not alone, Anna shared. 

“Many other crew members would have the same feeling, and it helps when individuals can come together and lean on each other to tide through difficult periods and keep each other motivated and positive.”

Entertainers wowing spectators.

Uplifting experience

Although working on a cruise ship has its tribulations, the perks outweigh the cons. For Anna, the beauty of working aboard a cruise ship is to be able to travel to different countries and cities, exploring the different cultures and landmarks. 

“On my last contract, we travelled to India and we were lucky enough to experience the Holi festival, and it’s an experience I would never forget.”

Asked what advice she could give to aspiring performers looking to work aboard a cruise ship, Anna shared: “Focus on all styles within your craft, be it singing, dancing, or whatever it is you specialize in. It is really important to be a versatile performer on ships as you are required to do numerous shows that are all completely different genres.”

“Ultimately, it is your passion that will keep you going.”

Top photo: Anna Larson (right), cruise ship entertainer.

All photos credit: Anna Larson

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