Meet Osagie – Dancer with the Statendam Cast
Life as a member of a ship’s cast looks like a pretty cushy deal, especially for a young, physically fit individual. It’s a great way to make new friends, have a lot of fun, see the world, and not have to work too Godawful hard in the process, right? Amazingly, that can be somewhat true – but not entirely. CruiseMates got the chance to catch up with Osagie, one of the male dancers in the Statendam cast to learn a little about his life and work onboard the Statendam.
The ship’s cast generally consists of six dancers and four singers – a male and female lead, as well as a male and female second lead. There will often be a slightly larger cast assigned to the larger ships, such as the Vistas and new Signature Class vessels.
The cast gets their first introduction to each other long before seeing the ship on which they will be assigned -- in Los Angeles, where the production company that hires them, Stiletto, is based. It is there that new casts will learn and rehearse the shows they will be expected to perform. There are generally four shows each of these performers must learn and master over the course of four to six weeks -- two months if they are lucky. Needless to say, they put in ten to fourteen hour days, often six days a week.
“It’s very tiring,” said Osagie. “We are hired through Stiletto Entertainment, a company owned by Barry Manilov. They are the ones who put together all of Holland America’s production shows.
“Once a cast has been hired, we are brought out to Los Angeles so that we can begin the arduous process of learning all of the shows we will perform during a typical cruise. We not only have to learn the dance moves and lyrics -- but we also have to be formed into a cohesive body that can perform flawlessly together.
“ We learn each show in little bites of about 10 minutes at a time. We start off learning the various dance moves and then we practice them over and over. We get about six days to learn each show and then constantly review the old stuff as we are learning new moves. Since there are four hour-long shows to learn, we put in some pretty long days. But things get much better once we are onboard ship.
“Often there isn’t much time to get a new cast up to par and then onto a ship. Sometimes we’re onboard performing in as little as a month after we first meet each other in Los Angeles. So, this rehearsal time is often pretty hectic. But we’re professionals, so we manage.”
I asked Osagie about his living arrangements on the Statendam.
“We usually share a cabin with another cast member. When we arrive in Los Angeles for rehearsals, Stiletto pairs us up for rooming assignments there. As we form alliances during rehearsals, we just naturally flow into friendships so that by the time we arrive on ship, we’ve already formed friendships and know exactly who we’d like to share a cabin with. That makes the process of sharing tight quarters a lot less stressful than it would otherwise be.”
Osagie considers being flexible the key ingredient to successful shipboard life. “You can’t get too bogged down with trying to pack a lot into each day while you are onboard. You have to leave lots of room for rest and relaxation. You also have to realize that you are, in effect, going to be living out of a suitcase for your entire time onboard, and if that’s going to bother you, then maybe shipboard life isn’t a good fit in your case.
“You also have to be somewhat of an adventurer,” he added. I personally love to experience new things, especially new cultures. Our recent stay in Alaska was very meaningful to me, because I got to see a lot of nature, as well as natural wonders, as opposed to tourist sites. Did you know that billboards are illegal in Alaska? They don’t want advertising cluttering up the immense natural beauty of the state, and I personally think that’s a great thing.
“I have a natural curiosity about different cultures,” Osagie told me. “My father was African, and, in fact, my name is of African origin. So, naturally I have a special affinity for the African culture. But I love learning about other cultures in the places we visit as well, and will often go off on my own in port to places off the beaten track where I can experience the local flavor of our destination. After all, to travel to such interesting places on the ship and not learn about the local cultures of the places we visit would be such a waste.”
Another neat thing I discovered about Osagie is that despite his youthful age, he is actually a “throwback” to a long gone era. He likes handwriting letters home!
“I love to take $20 bucks or so each week and use it to put together a special “package” for loved ones and friends back home. I’ll start with a handwritten letter, and then add things to the package – little trinkets I pick up in my travels -- things unique to the places I’ve been and the adventures I’ve had. Then I’ll put the whole package together and mail it with local stamps. I get far more pleasure from communicating with my friends in this manner than I would by sending a simple email by computer. After all, you can’t enclose a hibiscus in an email.”
I asked Osagie about his day-to-day life onboard the ship. How does he keep himself busy and upbeat when he’s not performing?
Sometimes we work just about every day – especially on the shorter cruises where we may do three shows in seven days -- and sometimes we have long stretches at a time when we’re not too busy, such as on this 30-day sailing. In Alaska, we were doing one week cruises, so we were performing several nights a week, but on this cruise, we only have four regular production shows to do over the course of 30 days, so we will have a lot more ‘down’ time.
“On performance days, we will do two shows. If you’ve seen one of the production shows, you know just how strenuous they can be. We get just an hour or so break after the first, and then must be ready for the second. This can be exhausting, so it is very important that we schedule in lots of time for rest and relaxation. We also need to take good care of our bodies, by eating right and working out.
“I generally begin my day with the first of two workouts I will do in the gym. Some days we will also spend some time rehearsing, which is another workout in itself. I also try to eat right and keep my mind engaged by exploring the ports and indulging my interest in local cultures. I also make sure to get plenty of rest and relaxation in my down time.”
“When we have long stretches between shows, I also like to help out in other departments around the ship. Today, I helped out in the Purser’s office. Tomorrow, I may work in the Library. I like learning about the different shipboard departments and what they contribute to the passengers’ experiences. I am constantly amazed at how each department onboard the ship – housekeeping, entertainment, food and beverage, etc. – operates independently – yet each flows smoothly into the functions of each other so that you don’t even realize how closely aligned they are. The Statendam is one of the smaller ships in Holland America’s fleet, and because of this many employees have been thrust into high profile jobs that on a larger ship would probably go unnoticed. This is why it is so important that we do our jobs extra well on this ship. We can’t just blend into the background as we can on a larger ship carrying a lot more crew members. Here the passengers notice the crew members more, and that’s why it’s extra important to stay on our toes and always do our best, no matter what our job happens to be.”
Osagie earned his Bachelors Degree in the Performing Arts in Oklahoma City, along with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education.
“I was lucky with getting my cast job. My school is well-known for its excellent dance program and Stiletto routinely recruits staff members directly from there. So, it was relatively easy to get my first shipboard contract, where others often have it a lot tougher.”
Osagie was born and raised in Austin, Texas – the oldest of three children. He enjoyed the performing arts from a young age and one day hopes to be performing on Broadway. Today, he makes his shore side home in Las Vegas, where he keeps himself busy with singing, performing and modeling jobs when not onboard ship. I asked Osagie if he missed his home in Vegas.
“I miss the shore side life very much. I miss my family and friends, and I also miss the opportunity to better myself as a performer by taking various classes and auditioning for the many new productions that are constantly springing up. Being onboard a ship is great, but you do pass up a lot of opportunities since new shows are constantly auditioning for talent, and you’re just not there to try out for these parts.
“I am on my first six month contract, and it will likely be my last,” Osagie said. “It’s not like I hate my life onboard the Statendam or anything like that. This is a great life, but it’s just not the life for me. Sailing for six months at a time is not for everyone, and I found that it just doesn’t suit me as well as I would have hoped, so I will probably be giving up the shipboard life at the end of my contract.”
I asked Osagie about the age ranges of the entertainers on the ship, most especially cast members who have grueling routines to learn and perform each cruise. Surely that’s only something the very young, such as him, could do?
“Actually, there is no particular age limit placed on cast members. If you can keep up and learn and perform the routines, there should be no reason someone of any age couldn’t be a cast member. The cast members tend to be younger simply because of the fast pace of the routines we perform, but they don’t have to be. Surely there are older folks just as capable. It all depends on the individual.”
Osagie looks forward to our days in Hawaii and French Polynesia. “We’ve spent the past three months in Alaska,” he told me. “I loved being there and seeing everything that great State had to offer. But after three months, a region gets a bit tiring, and it will be wonderful to go to warmer climates for a while. There’s also an amazing array of natural wonders to explore in Hawaii and French Polynesia, not to mention a wide variety of rich, deep cultures to learn about. The travel opportunities are clearly the thing I will miss most about shipboard life – that and the many people I’ve met in the course of those travels. Both have enriched my life immensely.”
We have already been treated to two production shows this cruise, ‘The Designs of Mackie’ and ‘On Track.’
“We’ll be performing ‘On Track’ again later in the cruise,” Osagie told me. “The performance you saw was technically part of the Coastal voyage, so many of our passengers on this Hawaii/South Pacific sailing haven’t seen it. So, we’ll be doing that one again.”
“Don’t miss ‘World Beat” either,” Osagie cautioned. “It’s one of my personal favorites, where we perform this neat routine in white Elvis outfits that you won’t want to miss.”
Somehow I think that just about any dance routine that involves Osagie will be something I won’t want to miss on this cruise. His dancing is truly amazing, almost a work of art, and it is clear a lot of work went into perfecting those moves as to make them seem almost easy. In fact, I told Osagie that I could get exhausted just watching him and the other dancers perform. Their moves are that fluid, despite being fast-paced. These folks actually make the whole process look easy and almost effortless.
“Good,” Osagie responded. “That’s the way it’s supposed to look -- easy and lots of fun! – for both the audience and for us.”