From the concert platform to cruise ship headliner – flautist Gary Arbuthnot on how to be a star at sea


In 2001, after studying at London’s Royal Academy and spending years as a principle flautist with orchestras across the world, Gary Arbuthnot decided to turn his back on the prestige of the concert platform. He created his own show for luxury cruise liners and he’s never looked back.

Attitudes towards working on cruise ships have changed. At one time they were seen as the place to go if you couldn’t get “proper” work on land. Not any more. If you’re thinking about creating your own show for cruise ships, this interview is packed with wonderful advice.

Gary has become one of the most respected and highly rated performers at sea. Lucky for us, he is very candid about how he got there and generously shares the secrets of his success. We cover everything from putting the show together, choosing repertoire, getting musical arrangements, scripting patter and what to wear.

What to wear on stage

How smart or casual should we look for our shows? Should be more smart when we’re performing on a formal night? As performers we need to be mindful of how we dress off stage as well as on. The more formal cruise lines expect entertainers to be dressed at least at smartly as the guests as all time. Some ban blue jeans altogether. Gary has some great advice on what to wear, including his own flirtation with leather pants…

How to talk to your audience

When it comes to patter Gary says your stating point should be writing your own script. Once you know what you’re trying to say, it’s all about practise. “Think of yourself like an actor,” he told me, “How does any actor deliver their lines in a movie without it sounding as if it comes off a script? Practise. Eventually with practise that formal script will sound like a one-on-one conversation. Pick someone in the audience and talk to them even though there are 2000 other people in the hall. At the end of the day we are actors. Take some acting lessons. Find a mentor. Get coaching. Just because we talk every day doesn’t mean to say we can talk on stage. That element takes just as much work as learning to sing or play an instrument.”

Make ’em laugh (or don’t)

Trying to be funny can be stressful for some acts. Gary says you shouldn’t worry about it, “Be true to yourself. Your show needs to represent you. There’s nothing worse than trying to get someone who isn’t funny telling jokes because they think they have to.” Collect funny lines, anecdotes that suit you. Try them out on friends. Get comfortable with them.

Keep the energy up

Gary has carefully constructed the end of his show to build the energy right till the finale. We discuss in detail the final build, when to segue, whether to get the audience to clap along and why it’s importance to read the audience.

Gary’s tips:

  • Always go see every other show you can. You never know what you might learn.
  • Whatever you choose to wear on stage, make sure you feel comfortable.
  • Have plenty of spare material so you can change your act depending on the guests on board.
  • Don’t worry too much about guest ratings. The bookers look for consistency and will understand if you have the odd tough night.
  • Not all cruise lines will be right for you. Try to find the right fit for your act.
  • Be genuine.
  • Don’t lecture the audience. Connect with them by talking naturally, like you’re in their living room.
  • Ask for feedback and be open to criticism from colleagues you respect.
  • Be aware of who you audience is and what they want.

You can connect with Gary on Twitter here or find his web page here.

Recorded onboard Crystal Symphony, 12th December 2013.

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