It’s been a show business trope at least since Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made movies together: “C’mon kids, let’s put on a show!” Thing is, they never mention the Tylenol.
Kathy Barrero knows. As facilities supervisor of the shiny new $32 million Royal Caribbean Entertainment Studios on Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus, where hundreds of young performers are always preparing to “put on a show,” Barrero sees exactly what it takes to do just that.
“They work six days a week,” she says. “They rehearse 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. So by the end of the day these performers are exhausted. I catch them walking by me going to buy Tylenol because they’re sore.”
They’re sore because they dance, some en pointe. Or they perform spectacular acrobatics, including stunts on BMX bikes. Some learn moves for onboard ice skating or aquabatics. They sing and act and mime – and some even fly.
In support of all those who will take the stage to entertain guests on Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises are directors, choreographers, musicians, technicians, an aerial rigging specialist for the fliers, costumers who maintain and rebuild some 62,000 pieces of stage attire as casts change every six months, logistics experts who ensure that the more than 1,500 performers who fly in from around the globe each year have necessary transportation and work documents, as well as medical exams and background checks, and many more.
When new cast members arrive with their freshly inked contracts in hand they find a 132,500-square-foot facility – said to be the largest rehearsal complex in the world – that was three years in the planning and a year in constructing from the ground up.
It includes 14 dance studios, 15 vocal rehearsal rooms, an audio recording studio, two aerial training studios, an aerial conditioning studio and a finishing studio.
It’s informally referred to simply as “The Studio.”
Next door is a former FIU dormitory refitted by RCL as 230 mini-apartments house as many as 470 performers and directors during rehearsals that vary in length from two weeks to three months.
“For a lot of our cast members, because they’re so young, it can be their first time away from home,” says Daniel Bartrope, who as coordinator of The Studio and housing serves as Barrero’s right hand. “It can be their first jobs straight out of drama school and their first employment. It’s why there’s a lot of energy and excitement.”
Each year, new performers with fresh faces and athletic bodies make the cut during global audition tours to take their places on RCL shipboard stages and soaring in the air above them.
They’re young people out to see the world, professionals who train to put on a show while never revealing the blood, sweat and blisters, the bone-deep weariness and the Tylenol that go into doing just that.