Published: July 28, 2011
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Meet Egyptian born SBF Member Khaled F. Ali, who after a successful start as a Stage Manager in opera, is now a Production Manager and member of the corporate office entertainment team for NCL.
Read his interview and find out about how his career has evolved to be part of the productions of NCL Jade...
Khaled F. Ali

NCL Jade
Stardust Theater
Khaled with his inseparable desk & laptop giving directions during a rehearsal
  • What is your background?
    Quote ...We as a company will pay for them (entertainment staff) to develop a show/act. We're willing to invest in them and unlike other companies we like to take risks and will give anything a try...
    Khaled F. Ali: I was born in Egypt and then moved to Houston, Texas when I was four. Did my schooling there and went to school for Engineering and got a degree in Architecture. Then I got into theatre and got a BA in Theatrical Arts and my masters in Fine Arts and Directing. In college I was very fortunate to study under José Cantero and Edward Albee, the playwright. My college was so encouraging and knowing that I wanted to get started immediately and the school of music were looking for a Stage Manager, they sent me over there. That was the best thing that could have ever happened to me, because I love music and opera. The professor who was teaching opera, became my mentor and best friend at the time. He and I together built up a program that originally only had two operas a year to five operas. Two of the operas were directed by me and three by him and it became a huge program that eventually led to the building of a new opera house. So it was really a very exciting time to be there. I then started working for the Houston Grand Opera - I was there for eight years as an Internal Stage Manager and eventually became an Assistant Director. Shortly after that I got offered the position of Production Stage Manager at the Florida Grand Opera and started freelancing in opera. Subsequently I was introduced to Royal Caribbean in 2001 and did a few contracts with them. After that I moved to Blueman Group as the Production Stage Manager and did a few years with them in Boston - fantastic company, great experience, but way too cold in Boston (lol)! Then four years ago I moved over to Norwegian Cruise Lines. I started off as Stage Manager here on the NCL Jade and now I'm very fortunate to be a member of corporate office entertainment team as the Production Manager.

  • NCL Jade
Stardust Theater
Choreographer Tiger Martina with Khaled at a rehearsal for the new NCL production number: 'Cinema Italiano'
2011 How did you make the transition from being a Stage Manager on a cruise ship to being a Production Manager in NCL corporate team?
    KFA: I was very close to the NCL President and Director at the time, as we were installing such a huge new program of putting on 4 or 5 new shows, so we had a close working relationship. He knew my aspirations and that I'd had enough experience in my life to make the next progressional step in my career. When the opportunity finally presented itself, I first went in as a Contractor, because they only had contract work and then eventually they took me on as a full time Production Manager.

  • What does being a production manager with NCL involve?
    KFA: Once our Director or Producers have an idea for a new production, my duty involves everything from taking it from their brains to actually making it a reality. That includes hiring the scenery designer, having shops build the scenery, shipping them over, designing costumes, lighting, sound... I follow every aspect except the casting, which is done by the Casting Director. Obviously when the cast are onboard, I work with them, but I'm not actually involved with the casting part of it. I'm glad I'm not, as I think everyone is fabulous! I'd hate to have to say: "No you're not any good, but you're better..." It's so mean!

    Quote ...People used to go on board to relax and play shuffle board and such. With the competition that we have now, the bar has been raised, which is why we've gone to bringing in branded entertainment, along with creating our own...
  • There have been big changes in the entertainment field in NCL.
    Can you please tell us about them?

    KFA: OMG, they are exciting! We now have Blueman Group, Cirque Dreams, Legends in Concert, Howl at the Moon and Nickelodeon - world brands that are now associated with our worldwide brand, but the most exciting part is these new productions that we are doing. We've produced Showdown, a new show on the NCL Jade created completely from scratch, but our most exciting show is Elements, which is on this ship and two others. These creations are the most exciting, because we get to have complete creative control from the beginning to the end and they have been tremendously successful. For us it's not only exciting to have these world branded entertainment, but it's also great that we can create our own shows which are such a success and also to be in an environment where we have a Producer and VP like Richard Ambrose and a whole team that's open to new stuff. It's definitely much harder, a bigger challenge and a lot more work to create something from new, rather than to do an already produced show, but it's much more rewarding!

  • NCL Spirit
Khaled at a rehearsal for the new NCL production number: 'Elements' What is your connection with Richard Ambrose? How do you work together?
    KFA: It's a great relationship, because we've been through the trenches together. We put on five new shows on this ship, within four weeks. It was crazy, we were nuts, but it allowed us to come together and know each other! We've known each other from day one, so he and I not only have a great professional relationship, but also a great personal relationship. We understand each other. The funny thing is that Richard is an ex performer who's just become a Producer, so he comes from that mentality and I come from the production end. Those are two different mentalities, so it's great that we have sometimes friction, in the sense that I present him with opposing ideas, which helps us to look at things from different angles. I sometimes see it from a scientific or logistical way and he sees it in an aesthetic, beautiful way. It's a good combination. When I came over to NCL I saw that I had a great opportunity, not only from the immediate management point of view, but it was also obvious that corporate was open to ideas and I knew that it would be a great place!

  • Can you tell us something about NCL's approach to its entertainment staff?
    KFA: We as a company will pay for them to develop a show/act. We're willing to invest in them and unlike other companies we like to take risks and will give anything a try.

  • NCL Jade
Stardust Theater
Christian (SBF Consultant), Lindsey & Khaled while exchanging mutual views at a rehearsal
2011 What are the boundaries and challenges of producing a show on a cruise ship?
    KFA: There are so many challenges on a cruise ship. There is always the lack of space that you are limited by, both backstage and in the theatre. When cruise ships first started using moving lights, they were faced with the problem of keeping them still when the ship rocked, which could ruin the mirrors. So the lighting companies had to redesign lights for ships. On land, since land doesn't move, set pieces go up or down, but here on a ship they will move, so we have to put tracks on them. There are a lot of challenges, mostly due to being in a theatre that moves, but nothing that we haven't been able to overcome.

  • We have seen how much the audience love the shows and how many people want to stay for the second show. What do you think makes these shows so compelling?
    KFA: I think it's the fact that they are so vibrant. We know our audience very well and so we choose shows that we know will appeal to our audience. So it's not only what we want to do, but what we know they want to see. On this ship we do a show called Showdown which is an American Idol meets Broadway singing competition. Then a London based West End musical called Shout! and now something very new, Elements. I think it's great when you have such new pieces and the audience get very enthusiastic when they see something brand new and exciting, as our shows are.

  • Quote ...I think that our guests expect more - which is great and NCL is able to give them what they want...
    The entertainment standard on NCL is at a Broadway/Vegas/West End level and the passengers can see a top notch show every night. Do you think that Entertainment is now one of the main incentives for them to choose a NCL cruise?
    KFA: It didn't use to be, but I think it has become that way. People used to go on board to relax and play shuffle board and such. With the competition that we have now, the bar has been raised, which is why we've gone to bringing in branded entertainment, along with creating our own. I think that our guests expect more - which is great and NCL is able to give them what they want. So it's a great atmosphere and it forces the companies to look at entertainment. Sometimes entertainment can be looked at as non revenue making for a ship, but you can't not have it, as nowadays, if you didn't have it, maybe people wouldn't come.

  • Have you ever felt the urge to perform on stage yourself?
    NCL Jade
Stardust Theater
Khaled... pondering his next move...
2011 KFA: Absolutely not! I've thrown up on stage and that was enough. In college I produced a play called As Is and I gave myself a little part in it, of course after the Director approved, and from that first night, which I will never forget, when I saw all my friends and family in the first row, I said that I would never do that again. I'm always willing to try something at least twice, except that! That was good though, as it helped me to really focus on producing, production management, stage management and directing. I love all other aspects of theatre, but just not that particular type. I don't like people looking at me!

  • Can you tell us about the new NCL production studios?
    KFA: It's a really exciting time for us as a company, because we are getting our own studios and creatively and production wise we will be able to control our shows and our cast. It's also a great time for us as a team to be growing together and sharing our ideas. So I'm very happy to be here, to have the level of trust from the Vice President and to be with the team.

  • As far as you can say, is there anything big coming up in NCL?
    KFA: Sure... watch this space … there always is. What I will say is that I'm working on two new productions right now for one of our ships.

    Thank you Khaled for this great interview and best of luck with your career and the new productions!

    Christopher Holmes
Production Stage Manager onboard NCL Jade
    Christopher Holmes
    Production Stage Manager onboard NCL Jade

  • Can you please tell us about your background?
    Christopher Holmes: I'm from Minnesota, but went to school down in South Carolina. I didn't get into theatre until I was a sophomore in college. I did the Diary of Anne Frank and I was very amazed at how a performance could change my personality, not just on stage, but also in the real world. That really affected me and I changed my major from Sports Psychology to Performance Theatre and that's what I graduated in. I then proceeded to act in the south for the next five years, starting in Virginia and then moving to Tennessee where I acted in a gigantic production called The Miracle, which is the story of Jesus. I acted in that show for three years, doing over 1500 shows, playing various roles. Erika Holmes
Singer/Dancer onboard NCL Jade & Christopher's beautiful wife Last year we did the production Joseph and an opportunity arose for a Stage Manager and I thought that would be a good area for me to advance my career in. After I'd finished acting I would have another career to pursue. So I applied and got the job. Later on in the year, the Miracle show Stage Manager left and I took over her position and stopped acting. Then the Production Manager left and I took over her job as well. Last year was a very trying year - we did twelve shows a week, 2 performances a day - one of Joseph and one of Miracle, so I was pretty much in the theatre all day long. It was hard work, but a good learning experience. Then in January I got married to Erika, who is a singer and soon after we both got a contract with NCL.

  • What is your role on the NCL Jade?
    CH: I'm the Production Stage Manager/Artistic Director. That involves calling all the production shows - I'm up in the booth calling all the lights etc. The artistic side is making sure that the shows stay up to par and that the events we do, outside of the shows, are quality and not something that we just throw together. Then there are schedules to prepare. We have a six-month contract on here, which takes us to September and then we'll see what the future brings.

    Thank you Christopher for being so professionally efficient in helping us to coordinate the interviews and providing all the material needed ...and best of luck with your career!

    Michael Maligtas
Technical Supervisor onboard NCL Jade Michael Maligtas
    Technical Supervisor onboard NCL Jade

    Michael's NCL career started seven years ago on the NCL Dawn, where he worked his way up from Arcade Technician to Automation Technician and then Lighting Technician, before being promoted to his present position of Technical Supervisor. He has been on the NCL Jade for the last two years. Michael is responsible for scheduling entertainment, rehearsals and events in the theatre and lounges. He also manages all the technical staff. Michael's favourite part of his job is lighting, because he feels he can be more creative and particularly enjoyed programming the lights for Airasia, Cindy Lauper and Sheena Easton on the NCL Dawn.

    Jessie Bachiller Ubana
Right Backstage Technician onboard NCL Jade

    Jessie Bachiller Ubana
    Right Backstage Technician onboard NCL Jade

    Jessie is responsible for the right side of the backstage, in particular safety. He is the eyes of the audio & light technicians and the production manager in the booth. He has worked in entertainment for six years and was involved in the TV industry, back in the Philippines.

    Vlademir Bercero
Left Backstage Technician onboard NCL Jade

    Vlademir Bercero
    Left Backstage Technician onboard NCL Jade

    Vlademir has been involved with cruise lines for the last eight years and along with Jessie, he's responsible for the activities backstage such as assisting the artists, setting up equipment, props, lights and sound.