As Halloween season creeps closer, SoCal's theme parks begin to stir with their various haunted motifs. One of the biggest beacons of grand scale, seasonal production comes from Universal Studios Hollywood, which will open its gates to this year's Halloween Horror Nights on Friday, Sept. 18. In addition to the park's various scare zones, rides, and horror film inspired mazes, guests will have the option of getting their groove on with an all new performance by the world-renowned hip-hop dance group, JabbaWockeeZ.
The group, which won on the first season of America's Best Dance Crew, has been busy performing their Las Vegas show, PRiSM, at Luxor for the past two years. Now, they are taking a little break to add a few twists and turns to Universal's fright fair. When the season is over, they will return to Las Vegas, where they will be performing at their new location, MGM Grand. In the meantime, the Weekly had a chance to speak with one of the founding members of JabbaWockeeZ, Kevin Brewer, about the crew's involvement with Horror Nights.
OC Weekly (Scott Feinblatt): How did JabbaWockeeZ become involved with Horror Nights?
Kevin Brewer: From what I understand and how I remember, we did a showcase at World of Dance at the Universal Citywalk, and there were some people that were affiliated with Universal that saw our act and they were interested in including it as a part of the whole Halloween Horror Nights presentation. I guess they had a 30 minute slot that they wanted to fill, and so they approached us about it and everything worked out; the stars lined up, and we found ourselves here in Los Angeles ready to launch a new show for the Halloween Horror Nights.
To what extent is the Halloween theme going to influence your performances at Horror Nights?
You know, we kind of touch on it a little bit; we're not masters of scaring people. We're more family-like fun entertainment in the type of things that we do. We have kind of a knack for some suspense and some thrills, so we do implement just a little bit of that stuff, but the theme is not really about horror. They wanted to have like a kind of palette cleanser for the people that were going to be participating in the frightful evening. So, our show is more or less just to kind of cleanse the palette.[
Your press release says that the Horror Nights show will feature gravity defying choreography; does this mean that there's going to be wires?
Ah, no no no… no wires. More just…lift our feet off of the ground [laughs].
And jumps and spins and turns. Defying gravity in the way that a human can without wires or harnesses or anything.
Is that kind of standard for you guys, or is there going to be more for this show?
You know, as time progresses, you get the chance to [experiment] with different things. We've been in Las Vegas for quite some time, so we've been able to look at the Cirque [du Soleil] shows and the Blue Man Group, and there's different talent out there. You see what they're doing and try to incorporate some elements…We're always looking for new ways to move. It's an ongoing process; we do have like a signature style and way, but we just try to take all of those elements and flavor them specifically to what we do. Also, as we acquire new talent, their skill sets can have variety in what they do, so they can bring new spins and new elements to the table. We're always in that space and that process of imitating and growing.
The press release also said that there's going to be some stunning special effects. Does that mean pyrotechnics?
As far as the special effects, the Universal team has been very helpful in bringing that aspect to the show. With the lighting, we have pro-light designers and sound effects guys over there, and so it's just kind of a nice little project that we put together. It's been a real collaborative effort involving this particular show. So, from that aspect, that's where Universal's going to put the bells and whistles on, you know, making the aesthetics of the environment — make it feel, you know, a little extra from what we would do on a regular stage.
How are you guys balancing your Las Vegas schedule with Horror Nights? Is there any overlap in the dates?
They're not overlapping currently. We're in the process of relocating to the MGM theater, but that show doesn't open up until November, so we're working on the projects simultaneously, [and] creatively balancing the two. The benefit is that you don't have to actually physically be in Las Vegas to create. Sometimes we have to take production meetings and kind of look at the space we're in and try to figure out how we're going to light it and what elements and tricks that we want to add, but it's kind of been working hand in hand just what we've been learning through this process of building this show for Universal. We're definitely going to take that knowledge and experience and apply it to MGM when it's time to open up.
You were saying that you've been acquiring new talent; I'm just wondering to what extent you hired new troupe members for this show or if it's going to be the core members doing every performance of every night.
Our main focus right now is just building The JabbaWockeeZ as a brand, and what that entails is that we just [dial it in] with our cast members, and it's not cast members just specifically for this particular venue. We're anticipating on growing; we're anticipating on having multiple shows simultaneously in two different locations and so our process now is really just downloading our specific style of dance — the way that we move — we have training that's pretty frequent, and when we get a new recruit in or group of guys in, we run them through character development; we run them through movement class; and then we run them through all the choreography and dance that we do, and it's really in house. It's home grown. We don't have anybody on the outside because we're the one thing that it stems from, so we're the ones that kind of take the reigns on educating these guys and getting them up to speed. There's a certain type of person that we look for, so when we do have auditions, we can see that this person has the ability to do this or whatever, and so at least we have some multiple [talents].
How do you feel about your journey so far?
We've experienced some great success, and as an artist you always kind of tend to wonder if you're doing the right thing, but we trust our gut — trust ourselves — and our supporters have really shown us that we really have done the right thing and [we're going to] keep going for it!