By Holly Kozelsky
Brandon Martin is taking a busman’s holiday.
He’s a professional cruise-ship singer, and he is spending his 3-month shore leave — singing locally.
Martin, who arrived home Oct. 26, is performing in the “Patriot Players’ Christmas Spectacular,” which runs through Sunday. He is staying in Carver with his grandmother, Faye Parker, and visiting with his best friends, Devin Pendleton and Heather Shivley.
“When I’m in town, he [Pendleton] makes sure that I’m utilized,” Martin said laughing. “As much as I say I want to rest when I come home, it’s nice to be active in something so I’m not completely bored out of my mind.”
Martin has been in several local theater productions through the years, and he has performed professionally in different states.
Pendleton is the artistic director for the Patriot Players, and Shivley was Martin’s costar in 2010, when they played the leads in TheatreWorks Community Players’ “Beauty and the Beast.”
After rehearsals Wednesday night, the “Christmas Spectacular” cast and crew sang “Happy Birthday” to Martin, who had turned 34. Pendleton said it was great to have Martin back for the first time since he was the donkey in “Shrek: The Musical” in 2014.
On the sunny seas
Being a cruise-ship performer is “just like any other job sometimes, like ... I don’t want to go” to work, Martin said — but in the end, “I love it.”
Martin started working for Carnival Cruise Lines in 2016. He’s at sea in stints of normally 6 months at a time. He can take breaks of up to 6 months off without having to reapply and audition anew for the job.
When it’s time to go back to sea, first he and a female singer are teamed with their band: a keyboard player, a drummer, a guitar player and a bass player.
On bigger ships, a horn trio may be added to the band, Martin said, “and that’s quite fun, but it’s harder, because quite naturally the horns are louder than the voice.” That results in the need to sing louder, which wears out the voice.
The band practices at “a huge studio” in Davie, Fla., for a month before starting the cruise.
Each time before they embark, each musician gets $1,000 to buy new clothes — a perk Martin said he loves.
Although he works about six hours a day and six days a week, it’s tough going — because that much continual singing is really hard on the voice, Martin said.
On a typical day, he will get up around 11 a.m., starting his day with lunch. Meals in the cafeteria are “really nice,” he said, because people from about 75 different countries work onboard, and the meals come in all their varieties of food.
He said he usually takes it easy in his cabin during the day, drinking tea while watching videos or listening to podcasts, especially when they involve “the voice and how to take better care of that.”
Because his cabin doesn’t have any windows, he also will make sure to be out on deck or outside every now and then for fresh air, he said.
Whenever the ship is in port, he’s able to disembark, as long as he returns half an hour before the passengers have to be back.
He starts working around 7:30 p.m., usually in the Ocean Plaza, “this wonderful open space around mid-ship.”
However, the stage is small and surrounded on three sides by seats and the dance floor. There isn’t much room for the band, and the singers have to constantly turn around to give equal attention to the front and both sides, he said.
From the start it’s pretty much constant singing until 1 or 1:30 a.m. Although the performers can take breaks, they are expected to mingle with the guests — more demands on the voice.
At his next cruise, leaving in January, Martin said he would take part in one of the cruise’s theatrical shows, “America Rocks,” in addition to singing with the band.
Although he has been to Australia, Martin mostly works in the Caribbean. His favorite places to go are the Aruba and the city of La Romana in the Dominican Republic.
The biggest ship on which he performed had 3,000 passengers, served by 1,300 crew members, he said.
He got involved with cruise performing after being recommended by a coworker at a theme park one summer. Martin later would recommend the work to DeMarco King of Ridgeway, who also is a cruise-ship singer.
Martin is a 2005 graduate of Bassett High School and 2009 graduate of Shenandoah Conservatory.
Eventually, Martin, said, he would like to perform on Broadway. That’s his big dream, but he was have to “put myself out there — and doing this, I’m so comfortable right now. I could do this forever.”
When he heads back out Jan. 29, his itinerary will the Dominican Republic, Aruba, Carousel, Anguilla, Saint Marteen and Puerto Rico.
But in the meantime, he said, “It’s nice being home in the country again, seeing familiar faces, loving the fall weather.”
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.