Ship life + Performing! Is this reality?

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Monday, 27 February

I’m typing from a breezy cafe in Nassau.  It’s sunny and very hot outside, and two of my friends have joined me for some tea, a little chit chat… and much needed wifi 😉  I’ve been on the Disney Dream for a month and a half now and things are finally starting to feel normal!  The cruise itself is such an incredible experience for the guests – there truly is something for everyone, and I’m surprised by how many adults come on a Disney cruise without children!  My life here – though not all vacation – is certainly surreal – at times wonderful and at times crazy…  It’s so much fun to perform our shows, and the Walt Disney Theatre is an amazing space in which to perform!  The beautiful auditorium seats 1400 guests and boasts Disney’s most technically-advanced stage, which is fully utilized in our shows – multiple lifts, pyro, flying, lasers – if it can be done on stage, it’s probably happening in our shows!

We opened our shows about a month ago, and it’s amazing how they have grown!  I love my cast and crew mates – we have a wonderful team, and I think the next months are going to fly by…

The first two and a half weeks on the ship were killers – we worked about 80 hours a week rehearsing and training (safety classes/certifications, ship policy, etc.), and by the end of it, we were all exhausted – and about half of us (including yours truly) were sick…  Opening each show was exciting, but not nearly the thrill I’d anticipated because I was so tired!  Now that we’re working a more normal schedule and almost everyone is healthy again, it really is exciting each time I get ready to step on stage.  That’s what I love most about performing – no matter what your day has been like, when it’s your turn to go on stage, everything else fades away and you just get to have the best time entertaining people!

Ship life has definitely been an adjustment.  Things are very up-and-down – sometimes life is great, sometimes it’s not.  I feel very fortunate that our cast is so close and supportive of each other – and that my husband has already been able to visit 🙂  Having him be part of my life here has made me feel renewed and much more at-home on the ship, even though he’s far away now.  My cabin is small, but I’m so glad that it’s all my own, and located close to the theatre, on a deck with outdoor space!

So, how do I pass my days on this glorious ship and in the beautiful Bahamian islands, you ask?  Here are some basics…  We begin each cruise in Port Canaveral, FL – my first “role” is as Assembly Leader for one of the guest evacuation stations.  We have a brief drill, then the guests head to our “Sailing Away” party – while I generally take a break before the show.  Fight call comes first – we go through any potentially dangerous blocking before each show, then shortly after, begin show #1 of “The Golden Mickeys”!  Between shows, I usually grab dinner or skype with my husband if the ship internet is working fast enough.  Show #2 can be interesting, as by that time, we’ve entered slightly rockier waters – so you never quite know what may happen 😉  After the show, we may have a company meeting/notes, some character greeting (we escort the famous Disney characters during various meet and greets throughout the cruise, about 7 hours per week), or just time off.

The next day we dock in Nassau, Bahamas – one of my favorite stops because it gives me a chance to use free wifi… and sometimes buy something new from the MAC cosmetics store nearby…  We have to provide our own stage makeup, so you can see why this is essential 😉  There are some beautiful parts of Nassau, so I try to explore when my schedule permits.  Our greeter schedule changes from day to day, but our performance schedules are almost always the same – so on Nassau night, we perform our second show, “Villains Tonight!” – again, beginning with fight call for our sword work, and then putting on 2 shows.

Our current itineraries are 3 and 4 night cruises, so Day 3 changes a bit.  On 3-night cruises we perform “Believe”, and on 4-night cruises, we have the evening off.  Right now, we’re doing understudy put-in rehearsals during the day (I’ve already performed 2 of the 6 roles I understudy!), but once we’ve finished those, we’ll typically have most of the day free to enjoy gorgeous Castaway Cay – Disney’s private island!  Even if I don’t have time to go to the beach, I always make sure to get outside for a bit – the island is absolutely stunning!

Believe” day – even though the busiest – is my favorite.  I love performing the show – both because of the show content in general, and because it’s the day my best friends appear – Mary Poppins and Mrs. Potts 🙂  We perform one matinee and 2 evening shows, and it really is a joy to do!  The last day of the cruise also has quite a few meet-and-greets, so our character friends are very busy, and we usually do greeting before the first or after the last shows – but in spite of the long day, it’s always rewarding 🙂

Well, my time in Nassau today is drawing to an end…  Thanks for following my journeys and I hope I’ll be able to coax you onto a Dream cruise soon 🙂 🙂

Whirlwind

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Sunday, 1 January

Did someone change the date on all of my calendars?  Because it doesn’t feel like it could possibly be the first day of a new year – and the end of my time in Toronto – already!  Although… when I think of the many intense-but-fulfilling rehearsals, cast activities, and holiday trips we’ve squeezed into the 3 weeks since my last post, it seems that surely several months must have passed…

Only 2 rehearsal days remain before our cast heads to Orlando for further training (and DISNEY WORLD!) and boarding The Dream!!  A week from now we’ll begin our 2 weeks of rehearsing on the ship before taking over from the current cast on the 22nd.  It’s unbelievable, exciting, a little nerve-wracking, and generally amazing to think what we’ll be doing so soon!

Rehearsals have been very challenging, but have become increasingly fulfilling as we’ve begun rehearsing our final show!  “Believe” is my personal favorite of our three shows, both because of the wonderful roles I get to portray in it and because of the content – so many of my favorite characters and songs are in this show, and the storyline is quite heartfelt/Disney magical 🙂  We ended our rehearsal day yesterday with our first run of it, and though the day was quite full and tiring, it was absolutely exhilarating!

We’ve also thoroughly enjoyed our holiday season here – from Christmas room decorating contests to Secret Santa (so much fun!), meals and plenty of Disney movie watching together, and a trip to the local Christmas market, it’s been a fun, festive season, even though I’ve spent it far from those I love the most…  I’m so glad we were able to get a group together to sing and play at Kensington Gardens, a local retirement home!  Even though we sing and dance most of the day, it’s a refreshingly different experience to do it in this capacity, and for people who might not otherwise be able to have live holiday entertainment.  I had a wonderful time, and I think the residents and other performers did, too 🙂

We had 4 days off for Christmas vacation, and although it passed way too quickly, it was a much-needed and mostly wonderful break!  It was so therapeutic to be with my husband again and have a little bit of “normal,” even though we were in the middle of a cross-country move.  Although it was quite hectic balancing time to relax, unpack, and celebrate with my husband’s family nearby, it was worth it – and now I have a picture of what our life will be like there.  It was so nice to cuddle with our kitties in our new home and do ordinary things again!  I really enjoyed exploring our beautiful new neighborhood and visiting some of our favorite paintings at the National Gallery of Art…  I know I will continue to miss life in San Diego, but I’m looking forward to the many good things Washington, DC, has to offer.

It was very hard to say goodbye again, but this week back at work has been so fulfilling professionally.  The separation is definitely the hardest part of this contract (although Skype at least helps) – but I really love what I’m doing…  Ideally, I’ll be able to combine home and performing in the near future!

I rang in the new year back in Toronto and enjoyed spending it with friends.  After a cast get together, a small group of us went to an elegant restaurant nearby for a scrumptious dinner, a little dancing (hard to keep up when your friends are professional dancers… ;)), and excellent company!  It was a lovely end to a wonderful, eventful year and a positive start to the next!  I can’t wait to see what it holds…

Ups and Downs

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Wednesday, 7 December

As I’m sure you’ve gathered from my lack of posting these last couple weeks, things have gotten BUSY here!  Today is one of those wonderful days where I have a big break between rehearsals, so I’m attempting to catch up…  Highlights from the last 15 days:

Work
We finished learning our first show (Villains Tonight) and have run it several times.  Cleaning and polishing continue 😉

Now rehearsing our second show, The Golden Mickeys.  I’m on ensemble track for that, so doing lots of vocals and some choreography.  Understudying Cruella de Vil in this show as well, which is a really fun part!  My friend who is the principal Cruella is quite a good dancer, so u/s’ing her track for the rest of the show is quite a challenge for me… but I’m working very diligently off to the side and after rehearsals, often assisted by one of my incredibly-talented and lovely-in-general dancer friends 🙂

More sword work.  I am almost a convincing pirate now.

After being squeezed into my harness tighter than Scarlett O’Hara into her corset, I got to do some more flying – this time higher and faster!

I reached my 30-day employment mark, got my Disney cast id card, and am now entitled to receiving those discounts I’ve told you about 😉

Play
More fun cast events, including a homey and tasty Thanksgiving potluck, a crazy trivia night, the most hilarious surprise birthday party I’ve ever attended, and kicking off Secret Santa 🙂  Christmas shopping with a friend, spending some time singing with her, too, and planning out duets we want to work on!

Enjoyed quite a bit of practicing for fun – singing through some of my favorite songs, challenging myself vocally, treating those times like voice lessons – I miss my teacher back in San Diego!

First snow of the season – one week ago today!  In spite of my greatly preferring warm weather, it was actually kind of nice – big, wet flakes.  Still doesn’t feel like Christmas, though – partly because I’m not rehearsing Christmas music for the first year in a long time 😉

Read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in about 4 days… (maybe that’s really why I haven’t been blogging – I pretty much rehearsed, read, and occasionally slept those days).  Great series, though!  I’m a little embarrassed to say that I also went to Breaking Dawn part 1 and liked it… cheese and all 😉

Spiritual/Personal Growth
Feeling motivated to be more giving in general and to set goals, so I’ve spent some time recently thinking about what I want for this contract, and life in general.  Who I want to be, what I’d like to achieve – and working on setting some short and long term goals.  Recent services from our San Diego church that I’ve listened to online and our cast Bible study here have reinforced that feeling, so a lot of us have been trying to help our community in small ways – like giving a yogurt to the homeless guy in front of Starbucks on the way to rehearsal.  Just trying to be the best person we can be in general.

One of the projects I’m motivated to do right now is organize music for a retirement home here.  I love doing that – and since I’m surrounded by such talented, like-minded people, I think this will be the perfect way to share our gifts and spread some holiday cheer.  A friend and I visited 2 places this past weekend and are working on organizing it 🙂

A few days last week were tough for me – combination of rehearsals and outside things, like severing those last ties to San Diego – it’s still hard to say goodbye to our home there.  Fortunately the funk has passed, but I’m sharing it because I think it’s important to remember that even when you get your dream, there are still rough times that you’ll have to work through.  For me, it was feeling dull and unimportant – not getting a chance to shine/be praised when other people did.  Sounds silly and selfish, especially if you’re not a performer, but I think it happens to all of us…  Since we’re not rehearsing my solo parts yet, I felt like I wasn’t contributing (and of course, began to feel like maybe they don’t think I’m any good…), but was constantly trying my hardest to do things that I’m not very good at – or that no one saw (understudying scenes).  Long choreography rehearsals for the numbers I’m understudying made me feel overwhelmed and discouraged, which is funny, because I’m actually getting it pretty well – much better than I would have if I hadn’t taken dance all summer/fall.  And the people here are so helpful and positive, and believe I can do it – I just need to believe I can, too!  It’s always stressful for me when I don’t excel at something (thus, my antipathy to sports) – especially if I’m still not great no matter how hard I work – or when it takes me a long time to grasp something that other people are just somehow able to do! 😉  Even if it took them years of training to master it.  I’m not sure what the solution is, but rational thinking and my usual positive outlook on things have returned, and this week is off to a very good start, choreography and all 🙂

Switching gears… in case you’re still reading – and interested – here are some of my first impressions of Toronto that I’m finally getting around to posting:

I’ve never seen so many coffee shops!  In our area, there’s at least one on every corner, often more than one.  Some places even have multiple Starbucks on the same block!  Pleased to report that Tim Horton’s are almost as frequent… and consequently, I’ve had more doughnuts since I’ve been here than I have in probably the last 5 years combined… but at least I’m dancing a lot!

Where are all the dogs?

It’s so expensive!  Average price for cereal: $6.59.  Lots of fun, unusual stores here, but…

People here are very fit – it’s refreshing coming from the US!  Maybe it’s because the food is so expensive? 😉

Rehearsals and Holidays

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Saturday, 19 November
Understudying is hard work!
Company meeting, brunch with friends at Cora’s (a local favorite, for obvious reasons!) and back to work!  Today’s rehearsals were cool, but most of it was for the roles I’m understudying – hard work since you don’t get many opportunities to practice with the other scene members, in the rehearsal space, with props, while the director’s there…  It’s especially tricky u/s’ing 2 people in the same number…  Practice, practice, practice…

Sunday, 20 November
It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas!
Toronto’s Christmas season officially began with today’s Santa Claus Parade!  I decided to watch it on tv from the comfort of my room…  After some rehearsing, a friend and I (and quite possibly the entire population of Toronto) headed to Eaton Centre for some shopping.  I’ve never seen a mall so packed!  It was fun (and productive) in spite of the crowd, and a scrumptious dinner at Milestone’s was a nice finish to the day 🙂

Whee!

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Friday, 18 November

Up where the air is clear
Morning scene work, then in the afternoon I had my first chance to fly!  A few of us trekked to the Toronto School of Circus Arts on the outskirts of Toronto where we had our first training session.  It was pretty cool – just sit back and enjoy the ride!  The harness is pretty substantial and has to fit quite snugly, so that’ll take a little getting used to, but otherwise my part is easy – just pose and let the operators bring me in 🙂  It’ll be so exciting once I’m in costume and on the ship – apparently I’ll be coming in at twice the height we did in the studio!

That night, a friend and I went to the touring production of Mary Poppins, which happens to be in Toronto right now… seemed only fitting 😉  It was a great show and very well done – but the Julie Andrews movie will always be my favorite version of the story…

Whew!

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Thursday, 17 November

Whew!
Today was action-packed and mentally tiring, but generally fun – and now I can relax!  It began in earnest with 3 1/2 hours of understudy choreography.  I’ll keep it simple by saying that my brain did not explode (although it came close), I did better than I thought I would (thanks in part to the dance classes I’ve been taking since my Disney callback casting director recommended them!)… but I still have ALOT of practicing to do!

Later came 2 hours of sword work, which though also mentally/physically challenging, was quite exciting!  Clashing steel is really cool!  My day ended with a couple hours of u/s Cruella choreography, though this time much easier since Cruella’s part in this number is mostly blocking.  Thank goodness!

Tomorrow comes yet another exciting new experience – my first flying lesson for Mary Poppins!!!

Disney Magic!

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Wednesday, 16 November

What it’s all about…
…both as a Disney performer and as the person I want to be – I’m grateful that I experienced it today.  My weekly room-cleaning happened while I was in my apartment during a rehearsal break and the lady who came was really sweet.  I continued to go over my music while she cleaned and we just chatted off and on.  She really liked my humming, so I asked if she’d like me to sing something for her.  I ended up singing a few songs and by the end, I think we were both almost ready to cry 😉  She told me it meant so much to her that I took the time to talk with her, and then to have a real Disney princess sing to her – she’d been having kind of a bad day, and I’d made her feel better…  I don’t say this to make myself sound good – but just because it meant so much to me.  That’s what I strive for as a person – just to be nice to others and be the best person I can be.  It’s also what I love as a performer – sharing something I can do that makes people happy.  It’s also partly the Disney effect – and this one little moment reminded me so much how thankful I am to be here!  I wonder if she knows that she encouraged me, too…

The rest of my day was lovely in general – I had the morning off, so a friend and I went to a Grace Kelly exhibit at a nearby museum and lunch.  Then, a few hours of scene work and back to practice some more on my own.

Work and Play

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Tuesday, 15 Nov

Sunday-Monday
This weekend was relaxing, productive, and all about getting to know friends better!  Late night girl chats and renewing spiritual time with some of the cast made for a good start to a busy week!

Tuesday, 15 Nov
Costumes and sword fighting!
Today I was transformed into some of my favorite characters!  Or at least partially – some will be custom made for me 🙂  Consequently, I found out some of my much-anticipated casting for the other 2 shows!  It’s subject to change (and I also have alot of smaller ensemble roles), but the ones I’m most excited for are:
Mary Poppins (woohoo!!), Mrs. Potts, u/s Aurora, u/s Belle, u/s Cruella (she’s in 2 of our shows) 🙂

After that excitement came my first foray into sword play!  Steel sabers are a Disney pirate’s choice of weapon.  There’s alot to learn, and every new challenge reminds me how wimpy I am physically – but between sword work and puppetry, I’m going to have a really toned right arm by the end of the contract 😉

The rest of my day was vocal work, including understudy coaching.  My track is pretty full, but it’s a good challenge for me.  In case you (like me) don’t know what that involves, it means I have my own part, which I will normally perform (for this show, it’s my pirate part, puppet work for my Fate character, and ensemble singing offstage).  I’m also u/s’ing 2 girls (Cruella and Evil Queen), which I thought meant that I just learn the songs/scenes those characters are in – but instead, it means that I learn everything that both of those girls do in the show.  So, if I go in for Cruella, I will not do any of my normal parts (even if it’s in a number I’m usually in), but will perform all of her roles instead.  There’s alot of carry over, but there’s some extra choreography, a couple of vocal songs, and a different puppet for one of my scenes.  It’s tricky keeping straight who says/sings which part!  Understudying the choreography is the hardest part for me, though, since you don’t get to use the actual props/practice spacing and such with the other dancers…  Fortunately, we’re only a week into rehearsing this show and I’ve become good friends with one of our swings (she learns every dance part) 😉

And we’re off…

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Sunday, 13 November ~ Rehearsal Week One!

Tuesday, 8 Nov
Assessments, assessments, assessments…
On Tuesday, it was back to assessments – this time vocal and side readings from scripts.  I tried my best, but vocally just wasn’t where I wanted to be… hoping I sounded better than I thought I did.  That night, we received our casting for the first show we’re rehearsing, all about Disney’s villains, which we began rehearsing Wednesday.  I’m playing one of the 3 Fates (from Hercules) – that’s puppet work – and am also the lady pirate in the Hook scene; understudying Cruella de Vil (so much fun!) and the Evil Queen from Snow White, as well as some other smaller parts, in addition to offstage ensemble singing.

Wednesday, 9 Nov
More new experiences…
Today was puppet work and vocals.  Puppetry is pretty cool – but hard work!  The first exercise was really fun – “singing” along to pop songs with googly eyes on our hands 🙂  It was strangely exciting to do!  Then we moved on to the real puppets, which was quite a bit harder 😉  Getting used to the stance and weight of the puppet, then learning the scene and moving correctly is going to take practice!  We’ve been working hard on it since, and seem to be progressing.  But my hand/arm are still a little sore 😉  The rest of the day was spent on vocal work, just assigning and learning ensemble parts.  One of my new friends taught me a great vocal exercise for belting/mixing – it’s a 1-3-5-3-1 arpeggio saying “Hi, my name is Kim” in a very nasal/forward place.  Works great and is now in my arsenal of vocalises 🙂

Thursday, 10 Nov
Puppets, vocals, read-thru, and moodiness…
Today was a long day.  Several hours of puppet work interspersed with some vocals and finishing with a read/sing-thru of the show.  That was pretty cool – nice to get a feel for timing and things.  I’m just antsy to find out what my main parts will be in the other shows… hoping I get the ones I really want… trying not to think about it, but it’s hard, especially since I wasn’t pleased with how I did in my vocal assessments…

Friday, 11.11
Ding, Dong, the Stench is Dead!
Today was a relaxing and renewing day!  Had most of it off from scheduled rehearsals, and it was great to be able to practice on my own and also take care of some necessary evils (laundry, dishes, exterminating the burnt-rubber stench in my room… caused by an area rug, which has mercifully been removed!).  In the afternoon, reviewed puppets with a scene partner, then went to a Cruella de Vil rehearsal with our director for character development and blocking.  What a fun scene!

Saturday, 12 Nov
Characters and Pirates
Rehearsals are becoming more and more fun now that I understand more what we’re doing/how things work and we’re actually putting scenes together!  And… costumes arrived for our fittings this weekend (mine is Tuesday)!  It is SO exciting seeing the garments of some of my favorite characters and knowing I’ll get to wear some of them! 🙂

Our morning was spent with the entire Main Stage cast (singers and dancers) learning about Character Greeter responsibilities.  We will each have about 7 hrs/week of escorting the characters to meet and greets around the ship.  I can’t adequately describe the morning, but it was motivational, emotional, fun, and ended with some surprise visits from our Disney friends!  The rest of my rehearsal day was spent mostly on staging the Pirate scene, which was a blast!  It’s finally starting to feel like this is real – I’m actually performing for Disney!!  I’m really excited about the new skills I’m learning – we’ll be doing some sword fighting in this scene, which we’ll learn another day – and my choreo involves being flipped upside down… all kinds of excitement   Our scene finished a little early, so I managed to make the end of my understudy Evil Queen blocking rehearsal.

We celebrated our first full week of rehearsals with another birthday party, which was a blast!  It’s so much fun hanging out now that we’re getting to know each other better 🙂  What a great cast!

It all started with a mouse…

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Saturday, 5 November

Rehearsal Day 1
Our first day was really fun!  First time meeting everyone, general information, facility tours, then on to assessments (basically, they evaluate us together as a cast based on skill, height, look, and sound to determine final roles, which we will find out at some later time… talk about anticipation!).  We started with dance, which normally would’ve intimidated me, but I actually enjoyed it, probably because I had the security of knowing I was already cast 😉 Later in the day we had a height evaluation (I was surprised to tie with one other girl as tallest girls in our cast), and then an acrobatic assessment!  We were taught some basics of Spanish web then each climbed up and down once, then progressed to climbing, securing ourselves in the safety loop, posing, and spinning.  I was pleasantly pleased to find that not only was I able to do it, I really enjoyed it!  We rounded out the day with some going over some music for the vocal assessments to come.  Errands with friends made a nice finish to the day 🙂

Sunday and Monday
Weekend!
Since our Dream 3 cast of 44 (singer/actors, dancers, and character performers) is rehearsing alongside the Fantasy 1’s cast of 44, we’re switching to 5 day work-weeks, instead of the usual 6.  Our days will be longer, but it should be nice to get 2 days off.  This weekend brought rest, unpacking, skyping, practicing, walking tours of the city, and getting to know people better 🙂