Over the Waves

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Cruise director Don Fluke '74 keeps the folks happy at sea
From the Winter 2010 Caller
Singing and dancing was always in Don Fluke’s blood, even when he was growing up on a remote cattle and grain farm in tiny Airlie, Oregon. As he got older he found ways to entertain people, even in places where musical theater was a scarce resource. As a Catlin Gabel student he produced an unforgettable ’40s variety revue, “Fluke’s Follies,” that sparks gleeful memories for faculty and alumni. Now, as cruise director for Celebrity Cruises for almost 30 years—and considered one of the best in the business—Don provides entertainment and joy every day to thousands of shipboard passengers.
Don lives and works on a cruise ship seven days a week, for four-month stretches. As a high-ranking senior officer of the ship, he’s in charge of all passenger movement, activities, and what he calls “everything except steering, cooking, and cleaning.” The chief communicator on board, he issues a daily bulletin and even hosts a TV talk show featuring the lecturers and entertainers booked for that cruise. It all comes back to Don’s love of performing when he emcees the evening show, sometimes sings, and always acts as the warm and welcoming figurehead of the ship.
“In my early days as a cruise director, I was speaking to two ladies off stage, and they said I seemed more homespun than when I was on stage. That bothered me. So I try to carry myself naturally. It’s not so easy to come across as sincere when you’re talking to 1,200 people a day, but that’s who I really want to be,” he says.
Don’s talents were honed in many venues over the years. Before, during, and after his time at Catlin Gabel he performed frequently in community musical theater—even during his senior year in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his parents had moved. He went to the School of Performing and Variety Arts at the United States International University in San Diego, then graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. Besides singing and dancing, he worked as an announcer for a trivia show on Financial News Network, a songwriter and recorded singer, and a jingle writer for and actor in commercials. His life became what it is today when an agent asked if he’d like to perform on a cruise ship. “And I never had a regular job again,” he says.
It’s not an ideal life for most people, he says. “The novelty of being on a ship wears off. I can’t wait to get back home so I can read the morning newspaper, make my own coffee, watch David Letterman, and go to the supermarket to see new products. Being on land for me is like being on a cruise ship for others. After I’m back on the ship I’m not so excited to ‘take a cruise.’ But after five days I get an adrenaline rush: ‘I love this! This is so nice!’”
“Cruises are a really just a different angle of show business,” he says. “Theaters in cruise ships can seat more than 1,000 people in more professional venues than in many cities and towns. This aspect of entertainment was the role I played in 'Fluke’s Follies' at Catlin Gabel (with many thanks to the tolerance and care of teachers Sid Eaton and Pru Twohy!). I put together a show, handled the technical aspects, and cast the show and performed in it. I didn’t know anything about cruise ships when I was in high school, but I’m essentially doing the same things now.”