We are happy to have Danielle Gauer here at our firm. Danielle has firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of the cruise industry performing as a dancer for several years prior to embarking on her university studies. She is currently completing her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and will be sitting for the Ontario, Canada Bar admission examinations this June.
Prior to law school, Danielle was the recipient of the Ryerson University Gold Medal and H.H. Kerr Memorial Scholarship for high academic standing throughout her program of study (Criminal Justice and Criminology) and extensive participation in co-curricular activities. Danielle is very interested in pursuing a career in maritime law and is a strong advocate of crew member and cruise ship passenger rights!
It seems that things have really changed since my days of performing on the high seas. Yes, I was a dancer on board a number of different cruise lines prior to embarking on my current journey of becoming an attorney. Interning with Jim Walker and Lisa O’Neill I have made a number of interesting observations regarding working as a performer on board a cruise ship.
In general, getting a “land-based” gig as a dancer and/or singer in the US is a grueling process, and for a Canadian, being successful in the industry meant breaking into the U.S. market. The thought of being hired as a performer on a cruise ship was a way to work for a US company, with American performers, performing high quality shows. Back in 2002 when I was auditioning to work in the cruise industry, the majority of cruise ship production companies hired only American performers and it was very rare for them to stop in Canada on their audition tours. I remember calling one production company situated in California, asking them if they hired Canadians. Their response at the time, “we have never been asked that before!” When I was hired through PGT Entertainment, based out of Florida, to work on-board Radisson Seven Seas’ M/S Mariner, I was ecstatic. Arriving for rehearsals to find out I was the only Canadian in a cast that was 90% American was even more amazing. But it seems a lot has changed since then.
It seems from my observations and contacts with performers who are still sailing on the high seas that the number of American performers has declined significantly. Cruise ship entertainers are being recruited from countries from Eastern Europe and Russia. The question is, why such a drastic change? The simple answer, high quality entertainment at a low cost!
Finding cheap labor has become more prevalent on cruise ships across most staff positions, and this includes on board performers. It has become an easy way for cruise companies to take advantage of foreign workers, who don’t expect the same salary or working conditions than a comparable performer from North America. This allows cruise ships to benefit from paying drastically reduced salaries, while also limiting liability and costs to maintain their overall workforce. And they do all of this while paying almost no taxes, by registering the company in foreign countries.
The issue goes much farther than simply salary. North American performers have a different expectation of what is acceptable practice and what is not. There is also usually no language barrier to overcome while working on a major cruise ship. But performers from Eastern Europe, for example, are less likely to know their rights, and also have the disadvantage of dealing with employers that operate in a different language.
Although the beautiful ports of call can be quite enticing, a declining quality in crew living arrangements, mandatory longer working hours, reduced benefits, and lower salaries, have enabled cruise companies to excel in taking advantage of recruiting non-American performers.