FDA plans and designs for some of the most innovative, vibrant, and technically super performance spaces and cultural buildings. What you may not have heard so much of, however, is their work on. Cruise ships. Take a listen.

FDA ASIDE PODCAST – All aboard the Norwegian Prima with Cathy Bachman


Rich Hackman (Host): You’re listening to the FDA Aside, a podcast from Fisher Dachs Associates, the world’s leading theater planning and design consultants, every type of performance venue, every type of client all over the world.

Cathy Bachman: And then the client happily said, there’s not a bad scene in the room. And I’m like, so glad to hear that, you know, you want the audience to be able to really experience everything that’s happening on stage. That’s a goal in any theater, anywhere that we’re doing. And, um, board the ship. It’s a, it’s a challenge because you don’t have a lot hike to work with, but I think we did a really good job.

Rich Hackman (Host): By now. You know, that the FDA I’m referring to is not the food and drug administration. If you work in the architecture, engineering, and construction space, you’ve likely heard of FDA’s plans and designs for some of the most innovative, vibrant, and technically super performance spaces and cultural buildings.

What you may not have heard so much of, however, is their work on. Cruise ships. I recently had the opportunity to talk to some of the folks at FDA about their work on Norwegian cruise lines, new Norwegian, prima cruise ship, but I’m getting ahead of myself. On August 29th, 2022 in Reykjavik, Iceland, Norwegian cruise lines, NCL for short christened its newest ship Norwegian prima Norwegian prima is the first of six vessels from Norwegian cruise lines forthcoming prima class. With planned voyages and destinations in Northern Europe from the Netherlands Denmark and England president and Chief Executive Officer Norwegian cruise lines. Harry Sawer said “It’s been a joy to see our vision come to life with this landmark christening ceremony, which sets the tone for the unparalleled holidays.
Guests will enjoy for years to come. We are so thankful to our team members and partners world. Who have made Norwegian prima a stunning reality.”

It should be mentioned that not only did the global music superstar, Katie Perry perform the christening as well as perform on stage, but she also happens to be the godmother of this beautiful boat. I wonder how that works. We’re gonna discuss all of this, including FDA’s incredible work on the three-tier Prema theater in club stage that featured summer, the Donna summer musical, and much more because among the 2,500 guests aboard the cruise ship was none other than FDA’s very. Kathleen Pockman

Cathy Bachman: Gosh, this is a lot to talk about. You know, we’ve been working with Norwegian cruise lines since I think [00:03:00] 2018 on this ship, which is now called prima, and it’s one of six ships that they’ll be building over the. Next few years. And the goal of this ship for the theater was to really give them a space in which they could do Broadway productions and also to give them a room that could transform from theater to nightclub.

Those were the conceptual goals for the project back in 2018. You know, we worked with, um, Fincantieri, which is, uh, ship builder, based out Italy. 

Rich Hackman (Host): Tell me a little bit more about the considerations and how different is it really developing and designing a performance venue on a cruise ship versus on land?

Cathy Bachman: In some ways, it doesn’t make that much of a difference to us, but we’re aware of the, the constraints are much more severe I’d say on a ship because there’s no simple moving of a wall or a floor or a section. The design of the steel of the ship gets locked down very early. And so a lot of decisions have to be made very quickly and have to be committed to very early in terms of the broad spacial decisions we’re making about the room.

Because later on, we will. Able to change a decision that we meet early because it’s already built and with the ship, the weight as much as anything matters. And we are the center of gravity of the spaces. So a theater’s a big hole in a ship. Basically in terms of the engineering of the ship. It’s not something I understand, but it matters how big that hole is and where it is and how much everything weighs that goes inside the theater.

And so other people, in a sense are, are very aware of the weight of everything we put into the theater. And that’s something we don’t typically have to wonder whether we’ve made it too heavy, you know, when we’re doing the building on land, but on the ship, someone is tracking the weight of the ship because the amount of water, the ship displaces determines ports it can go into, so if a ship is heavier than supposed to be able displace more water, it might potentially not be able to sail to certain ports is my understanding of it. 

Alexa B. Antopol: It sounds like solid science. 

Rich Hackman (Host): That’s FDA’s chief intelligence, officer Alexa and poll. 

Cathy Bachman: It sounds like solid science. Yeah, doesn’t it?

Alexa B. Antopol: Yeah. 

Cathy Bachman: It’s funny to think about that hole in the ocean that the ship makes matters. It does matter, but largely the same constraints, the same issues come into play, which is how do you make a space that works for the audience works for performers. How do you create intimacy in this space? We were looking for flexibility.

Cathy Bachman: We wanted the room to feel really when it’s in theater mode, we wanted it to feel very permanent, but we love the idea that when people came back later, the same night they’d realized they were in the same space, but it looked entirely different. Typically viewing theater’s the size on a ship. You have the same audience they’re coming back. They’re on the ship for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 days. However long the cruise is they’re gonna keep coming back to that space. The space is gonna be different when they come back, it’s gonna be lit differently. It’s gonna have different kinds of performance. It’s gonna have different floor area. The seating’s going to be configured in a different way.

Cathy Bachman:I’ve used, it were different many times just now, but we keep changing it up and that’s maybe one of the biggest differences with the ship is we might do a theater on land and the audience, many people might only ever visit at once. Maybe twice, maybe they come to love that theater and they’re there all the time, but on the ship for that week that people are on board. They’re gonna be coming back to this theater multiple times for short excursions, for theater, for concerts, for game show events for disco nights, nightclub events. And so they’ll see the room in all different configurations and have different experiences in the room.

Cathy Bachman:So they’ll really know the room well by the end of the week, in a way that, you know, we wouldn’t necessarily have an audience member. Who’s seven days out from the first time they set foot in the theater would have many opinions about its strengths and weaknesses, but onboard the ship. There’s that potential that people will really get to know the room really well really quickly. And then they’re gonna get off the ship. And they’re gonna say, you gotta go on this ship because there’s this amazing theater, that’s the goal, right? People will use the theater and talk about it after they leave and say, I saw these amazing shows. I had all these great experiences in this room and you have to take this cruise so you can have the same experiences I had.

Rich Hackman (Host): So being that I’m not a cruise person, I have to ask a question which may seem kind of silly, but you know, when you’re thinking about developing and designing a performance space on a cruise ship, I think you would have to ask the question. Aren’t you worried about things moving and slipping and sliding all over the place as the ship moves?

Cathy Bachman: Well, that’s of course a great question. And, and actually it’s something that we think about quite a lot, and that, that everybody in who’s working on the construction ship are always thinking about the reality is under normal sail conditions, you feel the motion of the ship. But nothing slipping or sliding your glass is not sliding on the table. You know, your pencil’s not rolling off the table, but there could be conditions at which you would feel rough seas and, and knowing that things are designed so that they will not move the telescopic seating that’s in the room is pinned to the steel of the ship when it’s deployed, when it’s in storage. It’s pinned to the ship. It will not move.

The banquet seating that’s in the room is extremely heavy and its mass is to counteract any potential movement that could happen. But you notice that even with furniture, even if you’re sitting on the ship and you’re in a chair that can be moved. It’s not going to move easily. Everything onboard the ship. Is thought about in those terms? Like, could it move, will it move if there are rough seas?

Rich Hackman (Host): So I guess Katie Perry, then wasn’t slipping and sliding as she was performing on stage then?

Cathy Bachman: No, no, no. She was not actually, while she was seeing the ship was still important, but I will say onboard the ship, you could feel the motion of the ship. It was very nice. It was, you know, it was just the right amount of, of movement that you felt like you were on a ship and that you did not feel like you were on. Which I think is kind of perfect. You wanna feel some of the movement of the ship? 

Rich Hackman (Host): Yeah. That’s that’s really good insight. Um, so [00:09:00] Kathy, give us a bit of a sense of what your entire experience being there in person was like the christening, the shows in performances. What was it like? 

Cathy Bachman: The ship christening, the concert in association with that was a performance by Katie Perry, who is the ship’s godmother. She was incredible. She was incredible. The concert. Longer than I expected all the songs, you know, her for you’ve performed, I think, and then some more. And she was just great. And then later in the cruise, Chaka Khan came on board for the final night and gave concert Kool & the Gang came on board, mid-cruise, they gave concert. They were fantastic. There was… 

Alexa B. Antopol: Summer 

Cathy Bachman: Summer. The Donna summer Musical was the inaugural cruise, um, musical that was performed. And it was terrific. And took advantage of the new theater really well. They did, um, The Prices is Right for the first time on one of their ships and the audience loved it. And they actually give real prizes. Um, though, though, when I was watching nobody won anything particularly big, but they could have, they could have. The Prices is Right is interesting on an international cruise because there’s always the issue of, do you understand the currency in which the game’s being played? It gives up contestants a slight disadvantage. If in fact they don’t understand American pricing. I think people will get the hang of the American dollar and how it compares to the pound or the Euro. And they’ll have a better chance at winning.

Cathy Bachman: They had all of the features you expect on The Prices is Right. You know, the big wheel that you spend with the dollar so much fun. I think the audience really love that and they have some other game shows they’re going to be doing, um, board the. In subsequent sailing. So you have other musicals that are coming in subsequent switch sailings. And, um, so they’ll keep mixing it up. What they do. That’s the intent that they can mix it up. They can have multiple shows on board ship at any given time and, and then swap them out when they come into port. 

Rich Hackman (Host): So for people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the lifespan of these kinds of projects and what all they entail, especially considering that this was an international project. Would you mind sharing a little bit about what that work experience was like? 

Cathy Bachman: Well, this project took about, um, close to five years. From start to completion of this first ship. We really work at maintaining continuity on projects within the office. So most of the people we’re working on it in 2018 were there this year, still working on the ship. And that really helps because you’re right. You know, there’s, there’s distance, there’s issues of language. There’s issues about the conventions of drawing for ships, as opposed to drawings for buildings. They’re not exactly the same. And so there’s a whole vocabulary in a. Of how we produce drawings and how we communicate about drawings, that’s different than land based projects. So that’s an adjustment, always.

You know, we worked on this project with, um, Rockwell Group and that also helped that they’re a firm we’ve worked with a lot. We know them well, and they did such excellent work coordinating our work. With the shipyard than it made it much easier for us to do good work. You know, something like this, it’s such a team effort. 

Rich Hackman (Host): That’s incredible, Kathy, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me about this. Do you have any last words regarding your experience on this project? Any insights or anything that you’ll take away from it? 

Cathy Bachman: I will say this. I was worried about the sightlines on this ship tremendously. And then the client happily said, there’s not a bad scene in the room. And I’m like, so glad to hear that, you know, you want the audience to be able to really experience everything that’s happening on stage. That’s a goal in any theater, anywhere that we’re doing. And on board the ship, it’s a, it’s a challenge because you don’t have a lot of height to work with, but I think we did a really good job. 

Rich Hackman (Host): Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the FDA aside podcast. If you’re curious to learn more about our other projects, please feel free to visit our website at fisherdachs.com or if you’d like to hear us discuss other subjects, other projects, feel free to shoot us an email at info@fda-online.com. And lastly, don’t forget to find us online on social media @fisherdachs on all social platforms.

Thanks for listening.