Dreama Davidson is a dancer and the dance trainer for Kinetix, the live, electrifying finale of the Busch Gardens Tampa Summer Nights experience. ‘When I’m dancing in Kinetix, I see the faces in the audience just light up,’ she said. ‘I see them anticipating the next scene. Even with all the work and training I put into my career, I feel humble that I was chosen to be part of such a project. It’s a huge blessing. I don’t take my job for granted.’
‘It’s a brand new every night,’ Davidson said. ‘Even if we’ve done it many times before, we always remember that it is probably the first time most of our audience has ever seen the show.’
Show Director Stacey Goode said, ‘People want all different levels of involvement with the performers. Sometimes they just casually walk by a show. Other times, they really get into it.’
Davidson agreed. ‘You can develop real relationships with some people,’ she said. ‘One guest came to Kinetix on opening night. She came back the next Saturday, and spoke with me afterward. She said she was sick, and the show made her feel a whole lot better.’
Davidson is a native of Tampa. ‘This is home,’ Davidson said. She grew up loving to dance and perform, and attended the magnet public school, Howard W. Blake High School of the Arts. She worked with acclaimed jazz musician and performer Fred Johnson. Johnson’s Power of Sound web site, states, ‘Research shows that music, dance and the visual arts serve as wellness enhancers.’ Maybe that combination of arts and positive energy in Kinetix is the magic that makes people feel so good.
‘I like challenges,’ Davidson said. ‘When I performed in so many performances and roles in Katonga, (the longest running show at Busch Gardens) I grew so much. It made me tough as nails.’
Jay Handelman wrote in Variety, ‘The parks in Central Florida are upgrading their productions to enhance the lure of their overall attractions in a competitive market. Like “Lion King,” “KaTonga” is set in Africa and features humans playing imaginatively designed animals created by Michael Curry. He mixes masks and puppet elements to turn men and women into rhinos, lions, giraffes, caterpillars and other jungle creatures.’
‘What sets KaTonga apart from the theme-park norm is its creative team, many of whom have Broadway credits,’ wrote John Fleming in the St. Petersburg Times.
Working with Tony-award winner Michael Curry, Davidson felt ‘like a sponge. It was a great opportunity. Working with the creative staff, there was never a down moment. We were blocking and reblocking, and on off time we were all rehearsing.’
Davidson’s advice for young performers like Cari Robaldo who want to work at BGTB – Busch Gardens Tampa Bay – is, ‘Be a sponge! Soak up all you can. Network, seek out people and chances to grow. Don’t wait for a solution to come to you. Try every art our community has to offer. Train, train, train. Be around that positive energy in the arts.’
She suggests, ‘dance lessons, cheerleading, local little theater. Don’t sit at home. Try everything.’ She encourages young people dealing with life issues to get involved with the arts. ‘Let it all out on the dance floor!’
As a Busch Gardens performer, and as part of the Tampa Bay community, she feels she can do her part by helping to inspire young people. ‘We all can reach out to one, two or three people. Think about what you are good at. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Start locally. Reach out to inspire one child.’
DJ Dax Quijano is the solo opening performer in Gwazi Field, getting the crowd excited and involved before the full show begins. He has a big job, interacting with the entire audience. He leads a hula hoop race, then escorts Elmo through the crowd in a spontaneous parade of guests. He has a big job, as he is on the stage when the field opens at 8 pm, double the time of the anticipated half-hour show.
‘I went to a monthly audition in 1999. They must have been pretty desperate at the time, because I was hired right away,’ Quijano said, laughing. ‘I was fortunate.’ He performed in many theme park shows, including The International Show, Christmas Celebration, Morrocan Roll, Jammin’, Katonga, American Beat, and now Kinetix. He has worked at both Sea World and Busch Gardens.
Quijano has been a choreographer and dance teacher. He echoes Davidson’s advice for aspiring young performers. ‘Get involved in community theater. Work in a theme park,’ he said. ‘If you don’t sing every day, you lose your power. Being the host of Morroccan Roll for five years, I learned so much. (This was a half-hour show of rock songs with a Morroccan twist.) There is trial and error. You learn what works and what doesn’t work.’
In Emmy and Grammy Award-winner Steve Martin’s candid and amusing memoir of his years in stand-up comedy, he relates at age ten, Martin started his career at Disneyland, selling guidebooks in the newly opened theme park. In the decade that followed, he worked in the Disney magic shop and the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm, performing his first magic/comedy act a dozen times a week. In the story of these years, Martin explains that, during these years, he practiced and honed his craft in ways that were unique and immediate. He knew instantly by working in such close proximity to people and with such frequency, which bits worked, and which bits failed miserably. He said that he reached the heights of showbiz coming from his time working in theme parks as his best teacher.
‘Kinetix performers have to be very adaptable,’ said Goode. ‘A performer may need to do multiple shows in one day, different tracks with different cast members.’
Kinetix features adept live musicians playing the rock band instruments. Guitarist Tom Kersey said, ‘We all play different nights, which are not consistent from week to week. The lineup from night to night is basically random. The three drummers are Kevin, Joel Quinas and Dave Hamar. The bass players are Jacob Cook and Tito Daniel Vallejo. Other guitar players are Zeb Johnson, Paul and Sebastian. Sami Ahmed and Jens Sweetins play keyboard in the band.’
There are some amazing featured acts in Kinetix, including a fire cube juggler and a thin, but very strong female who rotates an astounding amount of hula hoops around her lithe body, all while balancing on another hoop. A jump rope team of young performers do tricks that require great strength, including two people standing on top of another young man who jumps rope.
Wondering if featured acts at Busch Gardens had to work seven days each week, Mikhail Sozonov, a Russian circus performer from Moscow, said, ‘No, I’m not performing every single day. I have a day off once in a week. I was sick a few days, but they have one more family act to replace me.’
Sozonov performs in Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy at the Moroccan Palace Theater. The show features aerialists, jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and musicians performing as creatures from the world’s jungles. Some highlights include artists trained at the State School of Contortion in Mongolia reenacting flexible lizards, rhythmic jugglers from Cuba and Russia portraying frog musicians, and manipulation and aerialists from Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan soaring as butterflies.
Sozonov has many friends who perform in Kinetix. In the Cirque Dreams show, he does an astounding balancing act that keeps guests on the edge of their seats. ‘The name of my act is Rola Bola,’ said Sozonov. This is a kind of balancing performing art. It’s not my normal style, because they changed my act and choreography for this show. What I am doing here is a shorter version of my act. It is the same act, but it’s another choreography and there are more tricks in my act. Usually I am doing it in a Jazz style.’
‘You ask me how I get to this show? The Cirque Dreams invited me to work at this show in Busch Gardens,’ he said. ‘I am doing my act almost 20 years now, traveling with my act all around the world. I am on contract here for 10 months. We finish this contract on September 5th.’
Another native Floridian, singer Frank Edmondson, was raised in the small town of Bronson. He got involved in theater with the Suwannee Valley Players in Chiefland. Suwannee Valley Players is the only community theater serving Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties in Florida, providing a variety of live theatrical productions.
He moved on to be cast in a show called ‘Big River‘ in the Gainesville Community Playhouse. It is one of the oldest community theaters in the State of Florida.
Edmondson saw an advertisement for an African show being cast by Town Park Productions, the producers and director of the ‘Lion King.’ He went to the audition in Orlando on a whim. He was cast in Katonga, but with a solid day job already, he felt it might be a risk to take the part. He took the chance, left Gainesville and relocated in Tampa. Edmondson was the Lead Male Singer and Vocal Captain in Katonga.
‘I had no real professional training. I learned on the job,’ Edmondson said. ‘Opportunities came up and I followed through with them. I think the craft chose me, as opposed to me choosing the craft.’
Edmondson now performs in a Busch Gardens show called Sweet Music, a Motown Review in the Marrakesh Theater that opened in January of 2011. He is a featured male vocalist in Kinetix.
He enjoys giving back to the arts community, and even with his hectic schedule, makes time to work with students at Gainesville High School. He recently held workshops for them while they created their play, ‘Children of Eden,’ and helped them with fund raising for their theater. ‘I love seeing kids start in theater, get inspired, and work their way through,’ he said.
Edmondson advises young performers to ‘find some local theater and get involved. It’s a great way to train, and get free training. Push hard, persevere, and never take NO for an answer.’
These performers, and so many other people who work in hundreds of jobs at BGTB are members of our community and this park is an important part of what makes our community special.
Don’t miss this show! Even if you are working and can’t make a whole day of it, grab a bite to eat and a cool drink, and find your spot in Gwazi Field to enjoy this experience.
Be sure to read Part One of this article:
Catch Kinetix at Busch Gardens before this electrifying show ends on August 14th
Click on the Second photo on the left and view a great slide show, with photos of Kinetix and other performers at Busch Gardens!
Catch Kinetix at Busch Gardens before this electrifying show ends on August 14th
National Dance Week: Busch Gardens Celebrates Kinetix – Inside Busch Gardens
View Videos of Kinetix 2011 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on You Tube
Kinetix at Busch Gardens Tampa explodes into Summer Nights by Erik Yates, Busch Gardens Examiner
Busch Gardens Kinetix Earns Top Award
Kinetix on BGTNation, a blog for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay by Anthony Armenia