Lights ... script ... action

Besides the person steering the boat, the narrators for the Cruise of Lights take on a key role to make event enjoyable for passengers.

December 16, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Patty Reilly, left, and Mike Novak review and talk about the route and script of the Huntington Harbour Cruise of Lights at their office on Dec. 12.
Patty Reilly, left, and Mike Novak review and talk about… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Patty Reilly learned the true value of a good Cruise of Lights commentator the night she described a series of bright, ornate houses that no one could see.

Reilly, who has provided narration for more than half a decade during Huntington Beach's annual holiday event, found herself once on a boat maneuvering Huntington Harbour in a thick fog. Her task, as always, was to point the passengers' attention toward the decorated homes that line the waterways, but all that showed through the pea soup were vague splotches of color.

So Reilly relied on her memory. As the boat inched through the water, she described what each house looked like — in essence, what the customers were missing.

"It was the last cruise of the season and it was sort of like, how do you ask anybody to come back tomorrow night, because there is no tomorrow night?" Reilly said. "And every person who got off said that they had a great time and 'Thank you very much.' And I did check with the office after that to see if there was anybody who may have called, and we had received none."


Reilly, a Huntington Beach resident, may be just one of 36 commentators for this year's Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Cruise of Lights, but she has an exalted position with the group: She leads the training for others who want to narrate. Together with script writer Mike Novak, a former commentator himself, Reilly spends the weeks before the cruise checking out the homes along the harbor and logging any insights.

The end result is a 16-page script for commentators to work off of, plus a supplementary list of "cruise fillers" to fall back on during lulls. A third handout, which outlines do's and don'ts of commentary, ends with an overall rule: "You don't have to be perfect. Use your script as a guide to commentate. If you're having fun, your guests are having fun."

Novak, who lives a stone's throw from the cruise area, is back at work on the script this year after a long absence. He previously worked on it in the 1990s. To brush up on narration techniques, he studied one of the world's most famous waterway tours.

"When I was a commentator years ago, besides singing, I did jokes, so honestly, I would go to Disneyland and I would ride the Jungle Cruise ride about four times, because each of the guys has his own shtick," Novak said. "And I just threw in some of their stuff."

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