Second City on Norwegian
The Second City cast that was appearing on Norwegian Epic during my cruise on Epic consisted of six on-stage performers and a musical director. They were not a permanent ensemble but rather individuals drawn together for a specific period often referred to as a “contract” in cruise industry parlance. As Mr. Perlman told it: “We all gathered in Chicago three weeks before we boarded the ship, rehearsed for three weeks and boarded the ship. We [will do] our contract on the ship and all go our separate ways.”
Those separate ways can sometimes lead to a national stage. Mr. Scala pointed out that one of his colleagues when he was appearing on Norwegian Jewel has since gone on to become a regular on Saturday Night Live. “ All of those passengers saw someone who is now on SNL. There we were just doing our jobs and now she is on SNL. It is really amazing, that is the dream.”
On Norwegian Epic, “we do three scripted shows. Then we do two completely improvised shows - - a family friendly show and an adult show. We also do a murder mystery. During the course of the week, we rotate through those six shows, doing each one two to three times each.”
“One of the blessings of working in a situation like this is through the repetition of these shows,” Ms. Dumas pointed out. “You really find out where the laughs are. You are not nervous because you have only four shows and the agent is coming to one and your mother is coming to another. You have some breathing room and you get to relax around the lines because you have done it 400 times. Its great, there are very few other situations where you get to do the same material over and over.”
Mr. Scala agreed. “The idea is we get better the more we perform. Getting to perform while making a living is the goal.”
Epic is the first Norwegian ship where the Second City cast has its own comedy club. On the other ships, they usually perform in the main theater. “This theater is a lot more intimate. It holds 250 people whereas the main theater on the other ships hold 900 people. A lot of us prefer it because it is more intimate and comedy lends itself to intimacy, really getting to work one-on-one with the people.” But Scala continued with a laugh, “I also like entertaining the masses and I am not going to lie - - applause from 900 people sounds really great and laughter from 900 people sounds really great too. Its a lot of great energy.”
When they are not performing or rehearsing, the cast essentially has the run of the ship. “We are technically on the manifest as part of the crew. But we are employees of Second City and so we are essentially like third party contractors. We are treated kind of like guests. We are encouraged to meet guests, go for a drink, mingle with guests, be social.”
“We always put passengers first.” Mr. Perlman added. “So in a scenario where we want to eat in a restaurant but there is not enough chairs, we obviously would let a passenger sit down before we would. The same thing if we go to see [blues guitarist] Slam Allen in Fat Cats. [It is] space allowing.”
On stage with Second City
So there I was enjoying my front row seat watching Second City's performance. It was near the end of the show and Mr. Perlman came on stage with a typewriter and began a sketch in which he was the narrator/author of a Raymond Chandler-style mystery. It was the type of film noir story in which Humphrey Bogart was often cast as the detective. As I found out later, the sketch is called “Noir.”
Not long after he began to tell the story, Perlman mentioned the detective. Suddenly, a spotlight was shining on me. Mr. Perlman came over and placed a fedora on my head. I was now part of the show.
I was totally unprepared. I had not met any of the cast members and, at that point, had not submitted a request to do an interview. Thus, I was just a member of the audience.
“In the Noir scene,” Mr. Perlman explained later, “there are eight chairs that we have prepared the light for so I have to choose a man who looks like he is enjoying himself in one of those eight chairs. There are other parts of the show where it can be anyone in the audience. I always look for someone who is enjoying themselves because if they are enjoying themselves already, the odds are they will continue.”
At first, I was not sure exactly what I was supposed to do. Cast members portraying different characters were coming up to me and expecting me to respond. “I feel that a lot of the onus is on us to really make [a person selected from the audience] shine.” Mr. Scala commented. “If they are not feeling comfortable enough or we are not leading them in the right direction, I feel that is our responsibility. They were just there to watch a show. We ripped them on stage and they are the center of attention, which maybe they don't want.”
With the spotlights shining, I could only see my fellow performers and was only vaguely aware of the audience. “One of the things that I really like about this theater is that I can't see past the second row,” Mr. Scala confided. “I like feeling like it is just us there. It is too much pressure otherwise.”
But when something I did got a laugh, it was very encouraging. “You hear this pocket of laughter coming from 40 feet away and you think: 'Okay!” Ms. Dumas said.
“I've always enjoyed being on stage more than on film because you get that immediate reaction from the audience,” Perlman added. “On stage, you immediately know how people feel about it.”
Soon, it just became fun to be there. I realized that while the spotlight might be shining on me, I was only there to feed the Second City performers with material that they could use to create comedy. Since comedy is often based upon surprise, I tried to say and do the unexpected with the hope that they could turn it into something funny. As it turned out, this was playing into the Second City performers' strength.
As Mr. Perlman observed: “Even though these shows are [scripted], they have an element of improvisation In live theater you never know what is going to happen so you need to be able to think on your feet and make decisions on the fly. All of us our prepared to do that.”
After about an hour, or perhaps it was five minutes, my time in the spotlight ended. It had been fun and it was nice to hear the kind comments of the people seated around me. Despite these critical raves, I think I comedy is best left to the talented professionals with whom I was on stage.
In addition, Mr. Perlman noted, “part of the training process is [learning the] rules of improvisation Once you are onstage, you don't even have to think about it because it is almost muscle memory at that point. You can just go and trust the training and the people on stage with you.”
Cruise ship entertainment review - - Norwegian Epic - -Norwegian Cruise Line - Second City - page 2