In February of 2020, The 7 Fingers will officially be moving in to a new market, cruise ship entertainment. Along with a whole new cruise line, Virgin Voyages, on a ship named Scarlet Lady, they will be launching a whole new side of their company. Change, expansion, pushing the limits and trying new things–these are actions the directors at The 7 Fingers have never shied away from, but some may be asking why the cruise industry, which seems to offer smaller audiences and tighter venues?
Shana Carroll had an answer for that when I spoke to her by phone this past weekend, and it points to the novelty of the whole Virgin Voyages concept which is aiming to attract a younger more urban arts loving crowd, “They actually built the space for our show. There was this idea of having a modular theater. It’s basically a black box and you see it in different formations.”
Carroll explains the reasoning behind this move for Virgin and The 7 Fingers, “Virgin came to us talking about wanting to reinvent the cruise ship industry and I think that’s what is really exciting especially in terms of entertainment– it’s really a forum that I think was due for renewal.”
“They really wanted stuff that was cutting edge. First of all, by having original shows created for the ship that was sort of a destination thing, kind of like in the way that Cirque du Soleil did with Vegas.”
This collaboration has evolved ever since Richard Kilman, now Virgin Voyages Vice President of Entertainment, attended Traces at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015. Nassib El-Husseini, CEO of The 7 Fingers, is excited about the new venture: “I’m very pleased the company can benefit from such an international exposure. It’s an exceptional opportunity to expand our creativity, through this valued partnership that extends for many years.”
Carroll sees the move as a good one for The 7 Fingers as well, but from a creative director’s point of view, “I think having new playgrounds like that is really something that we’re drawn to just because creatively it’s a really fun challenge and stimulating and it’s always fun to go in to new territory. Also in terms of what I think the company wants to do, by branching out and go in where people don’t expect us to be.”
In their new Creation Centre in Montreal, The 7 Fingers has been cooking up two 60 minute productions for the cruise line with Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider at the helm. Titled Duel Reality and Ships in the Night.In a recent press release,The 7 Fingers describes the shows “The first is an acrobatic reimagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, staged as a sporting event for 12 circus performers, directed by Shana Carroll. Ships in the Nightis a multimedia cabaret for ten dancers and a singer, into which director Gypsy Snider places two young protagonists in search of their identity. The creation process is well underway, “three creative labs of one to two weeks have already been held between June 2018 and February 2019 for each of the shows. While production will continue throughout 2019, the rehearsals with performers will resume for eight weeks in January and February 2020, half of which will take place on the ship itself.”
For the cast, the contracts will be short, about 3 to 4 months, with a rotating roster of artists coming in to add their own individual stamp to each show, as Carroll has discovered through the workshopping process. To illustrate the concept, she describes her show as an alley show with a red and blue team audience to root for each side in this modern retelling of Romeo & Juliet. There is naturally a juggling battle, and when workshopping this, she tried out several jugglers with different juggling disciplines. “The scenario is the same, but it’s done like a sporting arena– every single time we recreated the pieces depending on who I had.”
I asked Carroll if she could see this being a long term partnership with Virgin Voyages, with many shows evolving over the years. “I think everyone’s optimistic on both ends in terms of everything going well, but right now we’re focusing mostly on this one and hoping we can keep it running over the years.”
The project’s creative team was announced by Richard Branson on February 14. His speech was part of a celebratory event in New York as sales for the Virgin Voyages inaugural season officially opened for bookings between April 1 and October 21, 2020.
All photos courtesy of The 7 Fingers