Show Control on the High Seas By Theodore Tsevas

Photo by Royal Caribbean

I was very excited when the team of the International Cruise Ship Entertainment Professional Association (ICSEPA) threw on the table the idea of sharing my show controls thoughts with the members, the friends and the colleagues/”extended family” of this fascinating, unique and challenging industry.

Being a professional musician specializing in music production and technology, it was an eye-opening experience when I was exposed to the show control world and the application this has in the cruise ship industry.

As I wondered more than 20 years ago when I first heard that term, many of our ICSEPA friends reading this might wonder: “what is show control”? Well, as the name implies show control refers to the control/operation of a show. The “invasion” of multimedia into entertainment “blurred” the lines between the traditional elements of a live performance acting, singing, dancing etc. with sound designs, lighting designs, video, projections, aerial effects, moving scenery and stage automation, atmospheric effects, robotics, pyrotechnics, lasers, etc. etc. All these elements, when used together, need to “behave” in an organized fashion in order to produce meaningful artistic results, support and enhance a live performance and ultimately contribute into an immersive experience. However, the reality is that every technical element has its own “mind” in terms of a control method, technical characteristics, proprietary software and hardware ruled by different computer protocols and standards, a variety of communication methods etc. etc. Just to stay in the ICSEPA theme … I would dare to say that there is an “ocean” of technology out there. 😉 A show control system’s sole purpose would be to link all these elements together and streamline the management of these entertainment related disciplines into an organic performance.

These days more than ever, any type of entertainment, whether a small regional theater or a Broadway show, a solo performer or a large scale concert, a small museum exhibit or an iconic theme park uses show control to a certain extend. The entertainment on cruise ships is certainly no exception. Featuring full blown Broadway shows, Las Vegas style multimedia extravaganzas, imaginative ice shows, aquatic multimedia performances, illusionists with the latest and greatest means of “magic” etc. as well as guest entertainers with various multimedia requirements, there is a necessity to produce accurate and repeatable results while dealing with the human factor and safety of the performers as well as the show operators.

For you enjoyment and to put things in perspective, you can catch a glimpse of an alluring multimedia performance called “Starwater” aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas at the following video:

The above imagery is a result of a multi-talented cast of singers, musicians, dancers, aerialists etc. performing in a carefully orchestrated environment that comes to life through the use of the entertainment technology and control related to audio video, projections, stage automation, robotics, aerial and other special effects and designs. The use of a centralized show control system in this case is not only necessary due to the complexity and “size” of this production but also due to some unique circumstances to the cruise industry. Unlike the entertainment venues on land, the ones at sea host and accommodate multiple shows with different requirements and designs within the course of a single cruise, some times even within the course of the same day at sea. Typically, there no “dark” days and the show(s) “must go on” every single day/night. It is not uncommon that entertainment technicians are frequently rotated which provides another need for intuitive means of operation of a show. A very busy venue in operation, naturally allows for limited time for rehearsals. These cruise industry “bonus” situations, in addition to the standard challenges every production is facing, such as the need of tight synchronization, the small number of members in the technical crew, the remote placement of the equipment etc. make the implementation and use of the appropriate show control technology and methodology the only way forward for most of these performances at sea.

In a typical show production at sea, a technical team will “translate” the artistic needs and provide the necessary entertainment system design and technology for the venue. Normally, this is a process that is part of the overall ship and venue design and build. Besides the traditional production process of a show that involves a team of directors and the artists, a specialist will create, design and program all the features that are required for a performance using the available systems provided. At this stage of the production, the construction of a cruise ship venue is almost complete and the ship is about to go into operation. The final designs will eventually be handed to an onboard team of stage managers, operators and technicians that will be engaged with the task of delivering consistent artistic performance results while hosting and entertaining a few hundreds and in most cases a few thousand of passengers night after night.

Regardless of which one of the above groups you fall as an entertainment professional it is always an advantage to have a certain knowledge of the entertainment technology control methods and possibilities. Show control is by nature a vast area to explore as it involves a variety of technologies, standards and disciplines with many origins. In today’s entertainment technology, control methods and communication with external devices might already be part of the “tools” we use every day. Whether you craft is audio, lights, video etc. controlling external devices is most likely within your reach. MIDI, OSC, DMX, Art-Net, Timecode, serial communication, TCP/UDP etc., are the most common ways of networking and protocols. might already be within your reach as part of the systems you are already using every day. Taking the time and making the effort to, not only have these terms or equipment features in our vocabulary but also to have a certain level of knowledge and actual understanding will definitely be an asset to you as an entertainment professional as well as to any production, design, programming, show operation, system troubleshooting process etc. etc. within the entertainment industry. This applies particularly to entertainment at sea where the support and contribution by a system specialist on location might be days or weeks away, depending on the physical location of the “floating” venue in the globe.


Happy show control exploring and smooth sailings to all ICSEPA members!



Theodore Tsevas ( is a composer and an entertainment production specialist who’s innovative ideas and extensive technical knowledge earned him and Emmy© Award in 2005 for his contribution to the XXVIII Olympiad, Opening Ceremony. He continues to gain recognition and credit for his numerous endeavors in new media, musical theater, concerts, exhibitions, sound and multimedia designs.