The arts and entertainment industries have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Allen Sanders, General Manager at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre, recently said in an interview, ““We were the first people to be shut down. We’ll be the last ones to start up.”
The cruise industry has also been on hold, with many cruise liners announcing further cancellations, adding to uncertainty around when they’ll be fully back up and running.
Alissa Musto has experienced first-hand the impacts of these changes across both industries. As a musician and entertainer on cruise ships, Alissa’s work has been directly affected. Like many in the sector, she’s had to pivot and adapt to the situation in front of her. In this interview, Alissa shares how she started her career in entertainment, and how she is managing the changes due to the current pandemic.
- As a performer from a young age, at what stage did you decide to take your career onto luxury cruise ships and why?
I only started performing aboard luxury cruise ships a little over two years ago. Prior to that, I was a freelance artist based in Boston, performing in the New York City and New England markets. Career wise, I was doing well, but I was starting to get restless. I wasn’t fatigued from performing, but I was getting increasingly annoyed by the rat race and busyness of city life and needed a change of scenery.
I was walking into my voice lesson in Boston one afternoon and noticed a poster announcing auditions for a talent agency. I didn’t know too much about the types of venues or shows they casted, but in this industry, the more connections and opportunities you’re exposed to, the better.
I went in and performed a few songs and within a few weeks I was negotiating a contract for my first cruise gig. I believe the opportunity came at the right time, both personally and professionally. I don’t think I would’ve been ready for the fast-paced, high-pressure cruise life without having served my time in the local scene.
- How does a career on the water impact your lifestyle and sense of routine?
In terms of lifestyle, the vicissitudes of land life are completely eliminated onboard; cooking, cleaning, traffic, bills, wondering where my next performance is.
However, ship life comes along with a different set of responsibilities and stress. As soon as you leave your stateroom, you’re working and need to look, speak and act like it, especially considering entertainers are amongst the most recognized onboard by both crew and guests.
When I am living and working at sea, I very much stick to a routine, although two days are never the same. I struggle to remember what day of the week it is, but it doesn’t really matter. Every morning is like a Monday morning and every evening is like a Saturday night. On port days, I’ll wake up early, go on an excursion or explore the port we’re visiting, head back to the ship and take a nap before getting ready for that night’s show. On sea days, I spend the daytime rehearsing, going to the gym, reading and hanging out with friends.
Because ship/international wifi can be expensive and unreliable, WhatsApp and weekly calls with close friends and family are my only real connection to my world back home.
The impact of a career on the water is most obvious when I disembark and return home. For the first few days, I am extremely busy cramming all the things I can’t do while on the road; appointments, organizing stuff around the house.
Then, everything just moves—slower. If I do pick up a few gigs, they’re usually reserved for weekends, as opposed to the cruise ships’ neverending entertainment schedule. My friends aren’t living in the next hallway; plans need to be made ahead of time. It feels weird having to actually drive to a grocery store, shop for food, cook and then clean up. Everything just takes more time and I find myself itching to get back to sea after a few weeks.
- How has your career, lifestyle and routine changed since the coronavirus pandemic?
My career, lifestyle and routine have been put on hold “until further notice”. With the cruise and entertainment industries being hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for performers is nonexistent. Because I was planning on living onboard before everything escalated, I rented out my condo and have now been living at my parents’ house with my two siblings since being sent home mid-March. It’s the first time we’ve all lived together in seven years.
I was supposed to be in Europe and would’ve been signing off from my contract in Rotterdam in a few days. My friends and I had planned to spend my birthday in Amsterdam. Instead, I’m on LinkedIn debating whether I should start applying for jobs.
Of course, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m home. I’m healthy. My family is safe and healthy. But I miss my life. And my friends. And being on stage. It’s a scary thing when everything you’ve wanted and worked for is swept away in the blink of an eye.
- How have you changed your plans for 2020/2021 due to the pandemic? What has the impact of these changes been?
While businesses and industries across the world have begun to slowly re-open and operate under the new normal, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it will probably be several more months before I am able to return to stage. And it’s not just the cruise ships. It will be a while before concert halls and venues are in full swing again.
The most obvious side effect is financial; growing up in a family of professional entertainers, I learned early on that you always need to have savings for a rainy day. However, I’m definitely watching costs a little closer. I’m trying to use this time to take on projects that I wouldn’t have the time to do when I’m on the road; pre-production for a new album, collaborations with different artists, learning a new instrument and updating my website and promotional materials.
- What is your advice to other performers who have had to pivot their approaches during the pandemic?
There is not a doubt in my mind that this will someday be all behind us. But in the moment, it is really tough for performers to see the light at the end of this tunnel, especially when the rest of the world has started moving on.
My advice for other performers would be to channel this time and emotion effectively and creatively; working on your show, writing new material, growing your online presence, practicing more. We will perform for audiences again some day. And when that curtain reopens, we can either walk back on stage with a year’s worth of excuses or a year’s worth of progress. You decide.
About the expert
Growing up in a family of professional musicians, Alissa started playing the piano at four years old and debuted on the national television series, “America’s Most Talented Kid” at age nine. Since then, she has wowed audiences around the world, performing throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Mediterranean, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Her recent EP, “X Post Facto” has been described as “hauntingly beautiful”, “captivating”, poignant, authentic” and “the millennial ballad of the century”, while she has been critically praised as a “jazzy-folk songwriting genius”, a “female Elton John” and “your generation’s Billy Joel”. In addition to being featured in dozens of publications and music blogs, she has been interviewed for Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, Insider, Thrive, Moneyish, Refinery29, Conde Nast Traveler and Bustle. Representing her home state as Miss Massachusetts 2016, Alissa was also a top 15 finalist in the nationally-televised Miss America pageant and has been highly involved with several music education initiatives and organizations around the country. Alissa holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music.
Image description: Headshot of a Caucasian woman from that waist up. She has blonde, shoulder-length wavy hair and wears a blue dress and white earrings.