Performance Opportunities Abound at Vacation Destinations

Brenda Pike
May 14, 2012
Lynda Defuria '11 sings poolside.
Nicole Poulter's group, Frontier Frenzy, at Hersheypark.
Lynda Defuria '11.
Nicole Poulter sings at Hersheypark.
Ali Ramsaier
Photo provided by the artist
Photo provided by the artist
Photo provided by the artist
Photo provided by the artist
Photo by Monxroe Photography

During the school year, Berklee students are hard at work onstage and in the production studio, but during the summer, many of them are found in entirely different settings: on the high seas or in Cinderella's castle. Cruise ships and theme parks are opportunities for students and alumni to gain valuable performance experience while saving up for fall plans—and they can even lead to full-time careers.

Showroom at Sea

Berklee students and alumni perform on cruise ships all over the world, from globe-trotting Holland America and Royal Caribbean to Beantown's own Spirit of Boston.

Professional music major Lynda DeFuria '11 did a three-month contract singing on Holland America's Veendam ship after graduation, sailing between New York to Bermuda each week.

"I only worked 2-3 hours a day doing deck sets by the pool, and then I was free to do whatever I wanted," she says. "Since we were in port three to four days of the week, I could go to the beach and explore."

Performances abound, as do chances to make new friends: "There's a lot of different entertainment on the ship," says DeFuria. "Besides the band, there's a man in the piano bar, there's a solo guitarist, there's a string quartet, and then there are the showroom shows, with a full cast of 10 musical theater performers. So there are lots of people who do the same thing that you do, and we all become really close."

The sheer number of songs she had to sing made her comfortable with a wide variety of music. "I learned over 200 songs in our repertoire," says DeFuria. "We do three hour sets, and every song has to be different. I feel like I have a one-up now when I'm applying to new bands, because I can whip out a list of really different genres and decades and feel comfortable performing those right off the top of my head."

Closer to home, MB/M and performance double major Ali Ramsaier '12 has worked on the Spirit of Boston as a singing server for more than a year now. "It's lots of fun, and it's great exposure. I started making business cards because so many people wanted my information. It's a really nice job to have while you're going to school."

Wish upon a Star

Back on land, the musical theater aspect of performing at theme parks such as Disney World, Hersheypark, and Cedar Point help Berklee vocalists become more confident onstage.

For the past year, professional music major Julie Lavery '11 has played Ariel in the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show at Walt Disney World. "It was kind of a dream come true," she says, "because this was the first show that I really took an interest in. I came to Disney when I was 12, I saw the show, and I was like, I'd love to do that. So I was psyched when I got it."

If she ever experienced stage fright before, playing Ariel cured that pretty quickly. She did the 17-minute show seven times a day, five days a week. "Literally, I'm in shells and a tail, and you have to get comfortable really quick," she says. "I just feel a lot more comfortable acting and singing now. It's an amazing experience just being onstage every single day. It's just been really good practice."

Watch Lavery's performance below (starting at 3:15).

Music therapy student Nicole Poulter spent the summer of 2011 working at Hersheypark, as part of a country group called Frontier Frenzy. They did three to four 30-minute shows, six days a week. "They don't consider us a band, but a cast, because we perform and banter in between the songs," says Poulter. "It's kind of mixed acting, dancing, and playing."

"I wanted a job where I could sing all summer, and in my hometown there really isn't anything for me to do, music-wise," she says. "It's just been such a great experience. It's singing every day, so my voice just gets stronger. Because our show is kind of goofy, you have to be out of your comfort zone all the time. You gain a lot of confidence in performing, and you're willing to take more risks. And then you get those people skills that you need to develop. It helped me a lot."

The experience was so good that Poulter is returning to Hersheypark again this summer, this time to perform with the a cappella group Hershey's Choco-pella.

What's Next?

Short-term cruise and theme park contracts can lead to long-term benefits. Chad Batty '97, a music manager for the Holland America line, played with Royal Caribbean for six years before moving into his current position. However, not everyone who performs with them is looking for that sort of commitment. "We work around schedules and understand that people may be doing other things with their career," Batty says. "We're happy to have them when they're available. A lot of people do three months, go home for three or four weeks, and come back for another three months. We've had some people who have done one contract and three years later called me up and done another."

After her three-month contract, DeFuria moved to New York to throw herself into a performing career. "I think a lot of people get into that job, besides getting to see different parts of the world, because you can really save lots of money," she says. "That's definitely given me a cushion to move here to New York."

Getting the Gig

How do students find these opportunities? Outside of the companies' own websites, there are two huge "cattle calls," where hundreds of cruise ships, theme parks, and regional theater groups recruit: Straw Hat in New York and NETCS in Boston. One audition there could be seen by 40 different talent scouts.

But often auditions are closer to home. DeFuria and Ramsaier found their jobs on Berkleemusic's job board, and Disney, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Hersheypark, and Cedar Point actually hold one-on-one on-campus auditions, organized by Berklee's Career Development Center, open to both students and alumni.

Batty was a professional music major at Berklee. Now he comes to the college once a year to audition students for Holland America in person. He says, "We don't get a chance to do a lot of in-person auditions, but anytime we can see a person face to face, it just gives you a much better indication, because a lot of what we're looking for is not just the musical skills, but the showmanship. Berklee people—especially the vocalists—understand that aspect."

What else is the cruise line looking for? Batty says, "For us, of course, being able to sight read music is very important. The general level of musicianship for Berklee students is high, as well the knowledge of a lot of different styles of music. You might be playing rock 'n' roll, pop, jazz, swing, so it's great to have someone who's really well-rounded and can shift gears."

The wide variety of skills students gain at Berklee prepare them for myriad careers, and working at cruise ships and theme parks adds a few more to their toolkit.