Dawn on the Seas

Forget about orange alerts: The cruise industry is bigger than ever. Thanks to new ships and elaborate marketing campaigns, more and more Americans are spending their leisure time on these spectacular floating hotels. New ships are launched every year, and plenty more are in the pipeline. Each ship seems an attempt to outdo its predecessors, with newer and more elaborate entertainment spaces.

But cruise ships come with built-in limitations and challenges for LDs and technicians. Space is at a premium and so is power. Product reliability is particularly important, since you can't get replacement gear in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. When choosing equipment for a cruise-ship application, it's important to opt for units that works within these parameters.

Consider The Norwegian Dawn, the latest ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines. Launched at the end of 2002, the Norwegian Dawn travels between New York and the Caribbean or Bermuda, depending on the time of year. The 965', 92,250-ton vessel can accommodate up to 2,224 guests. It comes with all the usual amenities, including pools, fitness center, spa, cinema, casino, library, and a seemingly endless lineup of bars and restaurants. As a bonus, there's even a collection of Impressionist masterpieces and an array of Andy Warhol silkscreen prints.

The main entertainment space is Stardust Theatre, which is conceived on the model of a European opera house, is three decks high, and can seat 1,037 passengers. Like most theatres on the newer ships, it is not a showroom but a fully rigged stage house. Currently, the ship houses three revues in repertory: Bollywood pays tribute to the extravagant musical-comedy-dramas of the Indian cinema, with a few Cirque du Soleil-style acts thrown in. Music of the Night is a medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs and South Beach Rave is a contemporary music package. All three shows have been produced by Jean Ann Ryan Productions, the Florida-based firm that packages stage shows for cruise lines and casinos.

LD Jim Ryan has lit all three productions on the Norwegian Dawn, utilizing a single rig that has been designed to get the most punch out of the smallest number of units. “It's all moving lights,” he says. “The main thing is, on a ship you have a lot of vibration; if you use conventional units, you'll have to refocus every week. That's a real pain. With moving lights, you never lose the focus. If you do, you can correct it from the lighting board.” Moving units are more economical, too, he adds: “We can do with two or three Mac 2000s than what we used to do with 20 conventional units and scrollers.”

Ryan refers to Macs because his rig consists entirely of Martin Professional gear, including eight Martin RoboScan Pro 918s, 14 Martin Mac 2000 Profile units, 38 Mac 600NTs, 16 Mac 500s, 14 Mac 250+, six Martin Atomic 3000 strobes, and ten Martin FiberSource 150 QFX fiber-optic illuminators: “I use the 600s to wash the stage — also for sidelight — and the 500s are hung over the stage for effects. I use the 250s usually in ground or side positions. I have the 2000s placed all the way upstage and in the front of house, for gobos, effects, and for powerful, punchy backwash. The 918s are scattered around on the outside of the rig for specials and highlights. We can move the 250s, and 918s around to make the rig look different for different shows.” Sidelight, he adds, is crucial to lighting all three shows: “Many times on a cruise ship, you don't have cyc lights, so I use sidelight, aiming it at the floor to make a kind of bounce light for the cycs.” (Gear was supplied by German systems specialist Funa.) Each show has a different look rooted in specific color palettes and other techniques, says Ryan. “South Beach is mostly bright neon colors — pinks, lavenders, purples. Bollywood is hot colors — ambers, reds, yellows; I stayed away from using too many cool colors. In Music of the Night, there's no movement at all; the units are used as conventionals, for a more traditional theatrical look.” Martin also provided Jem hazers, which provides the fog for the productions. Until recently, lighting in the Stardust Theatre was controlled by Martin Case console, which is not ideal for programming stage shows; however, a Martin Maxxyz was recently added.

Ryan, who also works extensively in Las Vegas, says he generally has a short amount of time to design cruise ship shows. “It's extremely limited; I get six to seven days to light the entire show — I have three weeks to light all three. On a new build, if the ship is in drydock in Germany, they'll rehearse the show in Florida. I'll work there with the choreographer and producer, then we'll go out to the ship. If the stage is already finished, they'll be rehearsing onboard and I'll begin continue designing the show. Then we'll have six or seven days to do the next show, then the show after that.” After being launched, the ship makes its maiden voyage, heading across the Atlantic to its regular point of departure: “Sometimes they have passengers on the first crossing from Europe and we'll run through the shows. The ship will hit London first, with a one-night cruise to nowhere, and we'll do a show.” By the time the ship lands in America, everything is ready to go. Ryan adds that shows can run onboard, “anywhere from two to ten years. It all depends. They can also change shows in part, so they can evolve over time.” With luck, the gear can be counted on to handle a long run, too.


Spinnaker's, the main nightclub onboard, features a circular dance floor in the center of large lounge area, most of which is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass windows that provide a stunning view. Charles Arrata, who programmed the lighting in the club, says that the rig, again, makes use of Martin products, including Mac 250s, 300s, Atomic strobes, and CX 4s, with ten ceiling-mounted f.a.l. blacklight units. In a club, one might normally expect some moving-mirror effects units, but the gear was chosen, he says, because, “Given the ceiling height in the space, you want the versatility of moving head over mirror units.” The equipment, he adds, was specified by Funa. ”They decided the fixture locations and the hang,” then adds, “it became a collaborative effort, in terms or routing DMX matrices and the general setup of the system.”

The rig, which is basically designed for lighting the dance floor during nightclub hours, poses a number of challenges, as the space is used for a broad array of events. Besides dancing at night, there are live acts, and themed South Beach Fiesta parties; during the day, the space is used for lectures, bingo sessions, even religious services. “It's a challenge to use what you have available to create a different mood for each event,” says Arrata. “You don't want the Mass to look like bingo.”

Therefore, he says, the key is “trying to amortize what you have. When you have a live act performing, you don't want to wash the stage with all your 300s if you're going to need them for something else.” Even during nightclub hours, he says, gear has to be used thoughtfully: “You have this great dance floor with a lot of movement, but the rest of the house is pretty much dead. I'm constantly trying to bring the outer part of the room into the dance floor, help people get their groove going. Generally speaking, however, it's a good space.”

Lighting control is provided by a Martin Lightjockey, which, says Arrata poses certain programming challenges — ”it's not a live playback console,” but, he adds, “it's good for DJs who only have to push a MIDI key to execute light cues. It's not the best equipment for programming live shows on the fly.” So Arrata has built a series of preset looks for each event in Spinnaker's. “I build sequences, then build cues off the sequences. For bingo, there's an opening with strobes to get people into the lounge. With Masses, I give them general lighting, to make a soft, inviting environment. For the club, I've made up a series of sequences programmed into cues that the DJ can playback via MIDI — everything is labeled, and the looks can't be modified on the spot. We have a Martin 2518 DMX controller, which is basically a playback unit. You can play back a cue with an effect in it and, if it's not a fast-moving song, you can pull the fader down and the cue will run statically, or with a large movement or a faster speed. It gives the DJ options.”

The biggest event in Spinnaker's is the regular South Beach party, Arrata notes. “We add in another ten Mac 250s, we use black light [including six Altman 702 250W high-discharge blacklights and two Altman UV-250s] to light these shadow boxes.” Also added in are two Hawk 3mW green lasers controlled by a Datronik PM25 controller. An Avolites Pearl console can be brought in, which allows the board op to run live cues, which adds to the spontaneity of the party atmosphere.

Interestingly, both the theatre and Spinnaker's make use of relatively new models of Martin equipment. It's a choice that can be problematic. “Cruises are like road shows: You have to have proven equipment,” says Arrata. “New equipment generally doesn't have a track record.” So far, however, he and Ryan report no major difficulties.

Several more spaces on the Dawn are outfitted with various combinations of Martin gear, Jem hazers, and Altman black light, including the soaring Atrium, the Oasis (a pool deck), Dazzles lounge, Dazzles 2 nightclub, Gatsby's piano bar, the Crew Bar, and a teen-oriented disco. Next up from Norwegian is the Pride of America, a US-registered ship. When it launches, you can expect more technical wizardry.