‘Marvel Universe Live’: Behind the scenes of a superhero arena show

Oct. 12, 2013 | 2:00 p.m.
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Nicole Niestemski performs with aerial fabric while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Lauren Stark auditions for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Marcelo Balestracci, left, and Sarah Sporich warm up before auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Marcelo Balestracci flies through the air while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Ivana Wei performs with aerial fabric while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Ivana Wei performs with aerial fabric while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Ivana Wei performs with aerial fabric while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Antonio Martinez auditions for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Martial arts performer Aaron Felske stays focused on the sidelines during auditions for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Martial arts performer Aaron Felske auditions for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Kirk Jenkins catches some air while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Patrick Chan auditions for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Patrick Chan hangs high in the rafters while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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Martial arts performer Darryl Stingley flips against a wall while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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The logo for "Marvel Universe Live" was revealed during New York Comic Con. (Marvel / Feld Entertainment)

Kirk Jenkins doesn’t seem to notice the young woman suspended in the air in front of him, contorting her body through a hoop, or the man in a nearby corner, spinning a fighting stick.

Instead, Jenkins sits on the side of the room of the Cirque School studio in Hollywood, intently focused on the steel blades in his hands. The Wolverine-reminiscent weapons are called kamas, and Jenkins grips them with controlled strength as he quietly goes through the motions of his 30-second audition routine.

Jenkins, 24, who flew to Los Angeles from his home in Warrenton, Va., along with his father and coach Ron Jenkins, is one of hundreds of people to audition for “Marvel Universe Live,” a live-action arena stunt show that will unite many of Marvel’s most popular superheroes, including Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers. The Los Angeles event was one of several casting calls for “Marvel Universe Live” held across the country, including in Las Vegas and New York. (Auditions in Orlando, Fla., are slated for Sunday.)

At the L.A. auditions last month, Jenkins didn’t have a particular character in mind, though his skill set would seem to qualify him for several; he trains in mixed martial arts, tumbling and tricking — a form of acrobatics inspired by many disciplines of martial arts and dance.

“I just want to get in,” he said, admitting he was nervous. He’s auditioned for parts before, but “not like this.”

Kirk Jenkins catches some air while auditioning for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Kirk Jenkins catches some air while auditioning for “Marvel Universe Live” at the Cirque School LA in Hollywood last month. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

When he finally took his turn in front of the casting director and stunt coordinator, Jenkins launched into a routine, slicing the air with his kamas, punching, kicking and spinning mid-flip. His performance elicited applause from his fellow tryouts, and he walked back to his father on the sidelines, beaming.

“We’re coming back tonight,” he said. “I got a callback.”

Though casting decisions have yet to be made for the roughly 50-performer show, Juliette Feld, executive vice president with Feld Entertainment, which is producing the arena show, and Marvel’s chief creative officer, Joe Quesada, on Saturday revealed a first look at “Marvel Universe Live” for 2,000 fans at New York Comic Con.

During Marvel’s signature “Cup O’ Joe” panel, Feld introduced the creative team behind the arena show and unveiled the show’s logo (check it out in the gallery above) as well as two teaser videos. The show, slated to start touring 85 North American cities in July 2014, will be helmed by Emmy winner Shanda Sawyer as director, writing duo Adam Wilson and Melanie Wilson LaBracio and stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong (who served as stunt coordinator for the 2011 Marvel film “Thor”), among others.

The videos (watch them below) hint that the show’s plot might revolve around the Tesseract-powered device, which fans will recognize from “The Avengers” and “Captain America.” One of the videos also features a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of the show, including the audition process.

At the Los Angeles audition, casting director Jessica Ferris emphasized the diverse range of spectacle the show will feature, including pyrotechnics, martial arts, aerial stunts and more. As a result, she said, cast members need to possess multiple skills.

“Because our shows tour, we can’t have an excess amount of performers on hand,” Ferris said. “So we need the most diverse and versatile group of performers traveling with us at any given time. They have to have multiple skill sets. If they don’t currently possess every skill set we need, we need to at least see that they have the absolute potential, no question, that we can train them to do the other things as well. We can’t have a one-trick pony situation.”

Patrick Chan auditions for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Patrick Chan auditions for “Marvel Universe Live” at the Cirque School in Hollywood. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A good candidate, for example, might be an aerialist who can also floor tumble, or an acrobat who has stage combat or motorcycle-riding skills, she said.

Many of the Los Angeles tryouts seemed to fit the bill.

Patrick Chan, from Calgary, Canada, expertly wove himself in two lengths of silk for his aerial performance, climbing, posing and then gracefully unraveling himself for a drop. Afterward, he showed off a few flips on the mat.

“If you want to be the best of the best, you have to be cross-trained,” said Chan, who professed an affinity for Spider-Man.

Krystle Martin showed off a fight choreography routine, but also has a background in stunts and works as a performer at Universal Studios and as a trapeze instructor in Santa Monica.

“[The Marvel show] would just incorporate everything I really enjoy doing,” Martin said. “I would get to be a superhero every single day. How cool is that? I’m thinking Emma Frost.”

When it comes to casting, Ferris said, physicality matters.

“The way that they would be able to support a costume, whether it’s something that requires a large build that can sustain a lot of weight, or if we’re looking for someone that’s super limber and bendy and we can contort them into small spaces,” she said. “We look very much at their physique, their body type, the way they move.”

As a result, some roles are more difficult to cast than others. The greatest casting challenge for this show?

“Thor,” Ferris said, laughing. “He has to be so massive and so strong, and typically, the people who attend these calls tend to be smaller people. So finding giant people with that sort of physical agility and strength, that’s not something you find every day.”

Martial arts performer Aaron Felske stays focused on the sidelines during auditions for "Marvel Universe Live" at the Cirque School in Hollywood on Sept. 14, 2013. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Martial arts performer Aaron Felske stays focused on the sidelines during auditions for “Marvel Universe Live” at the Cirque School in Hollywood. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Aaron Felske, a lifelong Marvel fan who auditioned with a dance, martial arts and gymnastics routine to the theme song from “X-Men: The Animated Series,” said he’d love to play the hammer-wielding demigod.

“Thor is one of my favorites. I would love to play him, but I don’t have enough hair for it,” he said, rubbing his bald head and laughing. “But of course, Professor Xavier would be an awesome role to play.”

Felske, a former Cirque du Soleil performer, heard about the audition through his agent, though plenty of tryouts were new to the scene.

“We can always tell when somebody is new to the industry and they’re just starting their professional career,” Ferris said. “Sometimes that’s a real asset for us because we can shape them and mold them and train them our way from the get-go. Other times, there are roles that are so key that we have somebody that’s a true veteran that’s seasoned. So we’re really going to have a diverse group of people.”

Ultimately, Ferris said, the performers will need embody characters that are already larger than life.

“This really encompasses people’s ability to bring a character to life — a specific character that people already know inside and out,” she said. “The characterization, the acting, that’s what the audience is going to connect with ultimately when they watch the show, not just watch a bunch of people do circus tricks. They want to get pulled into the story.”

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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Comments


2 Responses to ‘Marvel Universe Live’: Behind the scenes of a superhero arena show

  1. Julie Wickham says:

    Excellent article. Of course there could have been more information about Kirk, but otherwise a good article!

  2. Carolyn says:

    Kirk your awesome!!

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