A conversation with
QM2 Dance Captain Carol Summers

by Richard H. Wagner
Passenger ships, and Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 in particular, are often described as floating
cities.  Indeed, in recent years, the quality of the shows and the theaters aboard these ships has come
to rival those in a major city.  Along the same lines, while at one time, shows on passenger ships
were ad hoc performances arranged by the passengers themselves or in later years, by the ship’s
cruise staff, nowadays, the performers are professionals specifically engaged for the purpose of doing
these shows.
     Carol Summers is the Dance Captain on QM2.  She is both a performer and the leader of the 12
member dance team that does the production shows in the ship’s 1,094 seat Royal Court Theatre.  Her
dance experience goes back to when she was three and began doing highland dancing in her native
Scotland.  Since then, she has studied ballet and gone to dance college.  Her professional experience
includes dancing on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Victoria as well as in production shows
on land.   We sat down to talk about what it is like to perform at sea on Queen Mary 2.   

Dance Captain Carol Summers
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Preparing to perform

The shows on QM2 are not produced by
Cunard itself but rather by Belinda King
Productions of Northampton, England.   
This company has produced shows for
Queen Victoria, QE2 and QM2 as well as
for Cunard’s sister company Seabourn
Cruises and for various shoreside venues.
    Shows for the Royal Court Theatre are
not bought off-the-shelf but are developed
with Cunard and Queen Mary 2
specifically in mind.  The production
company “has to think of what fits what
 ship. You have got to make your shows fit to your audience. I think the audiences on QM2 are different
than on another cruise line.  You have got to have the correct show for the correct audience.”
  Since QM2 attracts passengers from Britain, the United States, Germany and other parts of the world,
developing shows for QM2 is not as simple as developing them for venues that cater to a single
nationality.  Also, because the passengers are sophisticated, “it is not just sticking to what they know but
having a little bit of variety at the same time.”
  During a given voyage, passengers want to see more than one show.  Consequently, the cast’s
repertoire typically includes four productions shows and four “bumpers.”  Bumpers are short
performances that open the welcome onboard and farewell shows as well as round out shows by
visiting performers.  Thus, the production company provides “about six hours of choreography,
costumes, ideas, light design, and technical design.”
    Once a new show is commissioned, the artistic director at Belinda King Productions develops ideas
for the show, deciding the story line and what numbers she wants to have in the show.  “It starts off with
her, she writes the shows, sends her ideas to the musical director.  He puts the music together.  After
that, the music is given to the choreographer who comes up with ideas. [They are] also speaking to the
wardrobe mistress because the choreographer has to know what the costumes are and make sure
everything matches.  They have to know what the scenery is, what the set is so [they are also talking] to
the production designer.”
  Because of the time, money and effort involved, a given show may run for five years on a ship.  
During that time, different teams of performers will do the show.  A given cast is often on for six months.
  Over time, the shows evolve.  For example, Ms. Summers performed the production show
“Apassionata” on QM2’s maiden voyage and she performed it again when she returned to the ship in
2009.  “It has changed slightly in some things.  The costumes are amazing.  They were amazing before
but now they are a little bit extra special. I don’t know if it is because I am older but I appreciate the
show so much more now than I did six years ago.”       
  The performers are selected through an audition process.   Singers come in and sing a few songs.  Out
of as many as 100 singers who audition, 10 will be selected.  Those ten will then come in for a
“workshop” at which they not only sing but act.  They are tried in different combinations to see who
looks good together and whose voices harmonize together.  Four singers are selected to join the cast.
       For the dancers, the company goes to several countries including the Ukraine, Russia, Rumania,
Portugal as well as Scotland and England.  The applicants first demonstrate their ballet skills and then
move on to a jazz number.  They are taught a number from the show and are evaluated on their ability to
perform that number.  Applicants also have a chance to demonstrate whether they have any unique skills
such as unusual leaps or jumps or expertise in a particular style of dance.  From hundreds of applicants,
12 are finally selected.  “It is a process of elimination to find the cast that [the company] is looking for.”
  Those who are selected then live together for a month or six weeks in a large house in England.  From
nine in the morning to six at night, the cast is in a rented studio learning and rehearsing the show.  This
takes place six, sometimes seven days a week.  “So our process before we get on ship is actually harder
than any other person that comes onboard.  For example, the waiters work hard when they get here but
we actually work hard before we get here as well as during the production shows.”
  “From there, they drive us all down in a big bus and we get on [the ship] in Southampton.” However,
while the dimensions of the Royal Court Theatre stage are marked out on the floor of the rehearsal studio
during the preparation period so the performers are aware of what the space is like, they do not have the
lights or technical equipment that will be used in the show.  Therefore, once the cast is onboard the ship,
there is an additional period where they are learning the staging of the show and getting accustomed to
the backstage area.  
     During this period, the cast that had been performing onboard continues to perform. “Slowly, we will
start to do a show and they will start to do less and less until eventually they get off the ship.”     

Life Onboard         
A typical day involves going to the gym for a workout after breakfast.  While the cast burns large
amounts of energy during rehearsals and during performances, workouts help to build muscle and
maintain flexibility.  “You have to go to the gym, you have to build up your stamina.”
     They also do ballet classes, which develops a more sustained and controlled stamina than the
workouts in the gym.  In addition, “we do try to have a bit of a team spirit.  Ballet class unites us in that
way and keeps us focused and professional.”     
   If it is the day of a production show, after lunch there will be rehearsals from 2 o’clock on.  Because
the theatre is used for passenger activities throughout the day, these rehearsals are done wherever the
cast can find free space around the ship.  “Space being a tender room, sometimes G 32 [the ship’s
nightclub], sometimes the Queens Room - - wherever there is a floor, the dancers will be there and
    At about 4 o’clock, there will be a technical rehearsal in the theater often with the band and the
lighting personnel.   A sound check is done, the mechanical apparatus that lift sections of the stage tested
and the lighting cues gone over.   
   This is followed by dinner and a half hour rest.  Then it is to the dressing rooms, where the cast apply
their make-up and arrange their costumes for that evening’s performances.
     Because of the small size of the dressing rooms, the cast cannot keep all of the costumes needed for
all the shows and all the bumpers in the dressing rooms.  As a result, they have to go to a storage area of
the theater located above the stage level and bring down the costumes that they will need for that night’s
            Each production show involves several costume changes, which can include everything from
dresses to hairpieces and shoes.  Moreover, there is often only seconds allocated for these costume
changes.  Consequently, once a performer moves off stage out of sight of the audience, he or she is
often frantically ripping off one set of garments and donning another.
         In order to facilitate these quick costume changes, the cast members lay out their costumes
prior to each performance in the order that they will be needed and in the way that that performer
feels he or she can don them most quickly.  “Basically, you have a chair and you work backwards.  
At the bottom, you have the [costumes for the] finale, the last number. So, it goes from the finale up
to the beginning.  It is sort of like a big sandwich of costumes. You set them in a way that is the
fastest was for you to pick them up and get them on.  Everyone has their own individual way of
doing it.”
     Since a performer does not always exit from the same side of the stage, he or she has to set
costumes on both sides of the stage.  “So, I might have half my costumes one side and half on the
other side. Sometimes if I have exited one way [and the next entrance is on the other side] I have to
run around all the way through the back corridor to get to that side, which is a whole other
performance in itself because I am normally running and ripping a hairpiece off my head at the
same time.”
     To make changing easier, the men’s costumes are fastened with Velcro while the women’s
costumes make use of quick zippers.  Buttons, hooks and eyes are just too cumbersome.  “From the
hair to the shoes to the jewelry - - everything is clip-on.  Any way we can cheat with a costume, we
actually do.”
     Sometimes a performer will not make the change in time due to a costume sticking or another
performer knocking over his or her chair.  If he or she fails to appear, the other performers “will
change the spacing in a way so that it will not be noticeable that a dancer is missing.  Sometimes a
performer will come on in the middle of a number because they have got themselves sorted, then
everybody will shift back to where they are supposed to be and it should happen in a way that the
audience does not notice.”
 The cast does two performances each night.  Between performances there is a little time for a
rest.  However, the costumes have to be re-set to expedite the quick changes that will have to be
done during the second show.
 Afterwards, costumes have to be brought to the laundry.  The next day, the dressing room areas
have to be prepared so that the guest entertainers who will be performing that night can use them.  
This involves taking costumes back to the storage area and making sure that any remaining items
are out-of-the way.
 Days that do not have a show in the evening are somewhat more leisurely.  While, there are still
rehearsals and workouts, the cast is not formally assigned additional duties. “Years ago, we used
to have library duties, a maximum of 10 hours a week per person. Because of our production
shows and how many we do during a cruise, [now, during a typical voyage,] they won’t give us any
extra duties because it is too much work.”  Still, the cast can be seen doing such things as helping
out during immigration inspections by directing passengers which line to stand on etc.  They also
are models at jewelry and fashion shows.  Provided it does not interfere with rehearsals or
preparing for shows, “if the cruise staff is looking for some help and they need an extra hand we
are more than willing to do it.”       
 In the evenings, the cast is allowed access to the ship’s public rooms.  However, there are rules
limiting which rooms that they can use as well as behavior in those rooms.  For example, they
cannot stand at the bars or sit in large groups.  They must wait until all the passengers have been
seated before taking a seat at a show.  “At the end of the day, this is our job and we are not here to
cruise.  Passengers pay to be on here, to have these privileges, we do not; we are here to work.”
The cast also mixes with the rest of the ship’s crew.  “It is nice to meet people from different
departments because you cannot eat, breathe and work with the same people all the time.  It is nice
to speak to other departments, make friends from different countries; there is such a wide range of
nationalities here.”    
 As dance captain, Ms. Summers is entitled to her own stateroom equipped with a single bed,
wardrobe, television, DVD player, a small refrigerator and a bathroom. “It is quite nice actually,
enough space.  It is small - - with 1,000 crew on here I wasn’t expecting a massive room.  I don’t
have a window - - the window is turn on the television on and see the view from the bridge.”


Performing on Queen Mary 2 is in most ways similar to performing on land.  The production
values, the technical equipment and the physical plant are on a par with those in first tier theaters
on land.  “Ships used to be quite low down [in the show business hierarchy] but now the standard
of production shows is quite high.”  Consequently, while appearing in Broadway or West End
productions is the pinnacle, working in a show on a passenger ship is not far behind.  
  Still, there are some differences.  On land with the possible exception of the top hit shows, the
number of people at a performance will vary with the day of the week with the audience being
rather thin on say a Monday evening.  On QM2, the cast can expect to have a minimum of 500
people watching each performance.  
 Another difference between performing at sea as opposed to land is that the ship, the theater and
the stage can and do move.  QM2 is a remarkably stable ship and thus there are passengers out and
about looking for entertainment even in rough seas.  “If it is really bad, we won’t do a show.  If it
is a happy medium, we might take out high lifts where the boys are lifting the girls.  It is too
dangerous.  If a boy stumbles and drops the girl, she is injured.  We simplify it.  We may take out
the number of turns, instead of doing two, we may only do one.  If it is bad I tell [the other dancers]
just be careful, I’d rather you did a little less energy and not hurt yourself than go full out and
suddenly I’ve got four dancers with broken ankles.”
 After a performance on a rocky sea “I find my legs hurt because you are fighting against it.  You
can be walking up a hill and running down a hill - - it depends on which way the ship is rocking.”  
If a performer jumps, he or she does so expecting the floor to meet his or her feet at a certain point.  
However, if the ship is rocking, the floor may make contact with the dancer’s feet sooner than
expected or later than expected, which can lead to injuries.  Still, “to try and stand still is harder
than actually dancing.  If the ship is moving and you are dancing, you just go with it.”
 Performing at sea also involves lifestyle trade-offs.  A sea-going performer does not have her
“own private life in that can’t just go and clean your own kitchen. You don’t have your own house
and your own things.”  On the other hand, “being at sea is amazing because you get to see lots of
different countries all the time.  Here, you don’t make your dinner, you don’t make your lunch, you
don’t clean.”
 “I enjoy my job, I love my job. When they announce the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers, I
actually get goose bumps from it.  I come off stage feeling such content and happiness with my job,
I can’t describe it.”  
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