On guitar…Kiki! On keyboard…Shout! On drums…Marina! And the real MC, Twist in the house!
I had the exciting opportunity to sit down with the main cast of The Fresh Beat Band, a fun new series for preschoolers airing on Nickelodeon. Here’s what they had to say about the show, acting, and what they hope parents and kids get from the series.
Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (“Kiki”)
Gonzalez-Nacer got a call from her agent about the series and she was interested because “they were looking for someone who sings, acts, dances, and plays an instrument.” Gonzalez-Nacer plays violin, guitar, and a little piano so she felt that this would be a fun and great opportunity to throw all the things that she loves into one show.
Gonzalez-Nacer read and did screen tests for both Kiki and Marina. Half way through the screen tests they had her reading for Kiki only. With her skills on guitar and violin, Gonzalez-Nacer was able to make Kiki her own, and she like the other actors share traits in common with their Fresh Beat counterparts.
“In a lot of ways we’re very similar to the characters that we play” she says. “So sometimes we feel that we can contribute something more personally than the writer would know and then things just come out naturally and makes it better in the end.” This is especially useful on a set that is collaborative. “Everyone seems to be open to hearing ideas and coming up with a good product at the end of it all.”
Gonzalez-Nacer says that “one thing I absolutely love about Kiki is that she’s so positive. So even when thing start going a little askew, she’s still able to see the bright side of the picture. And I think she also has this great love of helping others, so she’s constantly trying to figure out how she can contribute to a situation. She’s fun, she likes to perform, she loves to make music with her friends; she’s generally a joyful spirit, and I think that’s a winning quality.”
“The four characters are so different from each other but they really compliment each other. It’s a beautiful balance between all four.”
Jon Beavers (“Twist”)
Beavers loves musical theatre and writing music. At the audition for Fresh Beat Band, he was asked to sing sixteen bars of a song. Instead of singing all sixteen bars of a real song, Beavers cheated and sang eight bars of a real song and eight of a song he had written. Beavers primary interest lies in writing Hip-Hop music, something that the producers were excited about.
He started to bring some of his work in for his auditions and was given more information about the series; it would be a music show “that spanned a bunch of genres and was all inclusive.” Beavers says that he “hasn’t done something anything this hard or this fun in a long time.”
He originally read for Shout, but was soon routed toward his character of Twist by producers. For the most part, all of their characters and the series have evolved due to their contributions. “What’s been cool about the show from the auditions up until now is what we’ve brought to the table, whether we knew were bringing it or now, has largely influenced the shape of the show.”
Beavers likes the fact the series makes music accessible to kids and doesn’t put fame and glamour ahead of the music like other shows. “The show’s not about being rock stars. It’s not about being famous musicians. It’s about everyone playing music, or can and should be able to. Music can be a part of your life and should be a part of your life.”
The character of Twist can be considered the Gilligan of the group: always getting himself into zany slapstick predicaments and other wacky situations. So how does an actor prepare to do such scenes? Beavers says that “it’s really fun because I love to make people laugh. I love to do it creatively and spontaneously. And so I’ve had a lot of fun working with [the directors] in trying something once and then coming up with something even more creative and trying it out. So you keep going until you realize you’ve gone too far, and you reel it back and you hit perfect.” It’s a collaborative process between actor and director, and the best way to make the comedy work is to not over-analyze things. “When you’re really funny is when you haven’t had a chance to reflect on how funny you are.”
Being a series aimed at preschoolers, there isn’t a lot of worry about content being deemed inappropriate by Nickelodeon’s higher-ups. Beavers adds, “the focus of this show and the focus of the ideas of these characters don’t really put you in too many situations where you have to debate the morality of the message. Things are done on far more universal themes. They just naturally tend to stay in the stream that’s relatively wholesome.”
On his character, Twist, Beavers says: “I like his creative/inventive side. I like that he’s never daunted no matter how many times his big idea has been shot down he’s ready to submit a new one. I admire that he’s willing to throw out an idea with no fear.”
Thomas Hobson (“Shout”)
Hobson found out about the audition through friends and swore to them that he wasn’t going. It was something he was never interested in; and he never saw himself performing in this manner. He had done his best to completely avoid being a part of any auditioning by going home to visit his parents. His ever-persistent friends refused to let him pass up the chance, and eventually convinced him to audition. He received a call-back, and was sent a script.
After reading the script, he realized “this is not going to be your everyday kids’ show. There’s going to actually be something cool going on, and as an actor I’ll be able to come here and make choices and have experiences.” Hobson was pleased to discover that the show wasn’t going to be all about constant music or laughs, but the characters would be solving problems each episode, which gave the series more depth. He’s also a fan of musical theatre, and was excited by the prospect of singing and dancing in each episode.
At Hobson’s first audition he received sides (sample script pages) for Twist. The next round, however, were for Shout. The audition process for all of them was a long one, starting back in early 2008. Over the next month there were auditions, screen tests, and trips to the recording studio to record music. Hobson found out he landed the role of Shout on Valentine’s Day.
During the casting process, Hobson and the others were brought into a room to read a variety of scenes with other actors to see what the chemistry between them would be like. “Somehow this combination, for whatever reason,” adds Gonzalez-Nacer, “felt really good and really natural.” There was a great energy in the room when Gonzalez-Nacer, Beavers, Hobson, and Rose were brought together. “It’s a cliché,” says Hobson, “but when the four of us walked into the room it was magic.”
Hobson called his parents, who asked him how the audition went and who he would pick were he on the other side of the table. He, of course, said he would have picked himself, but he also said he would have picked the other three who were later cast as his fellow cast members on the series.
Opinions about the series were formed early by those who had never even seen a full episode. Many of these opinions were negative, and Hobson and the others are proud that once those who initially panned the show got to see an episode, their opinion changed to a more positive one. Still, there are those people who just can’t be sold on an idea that involves entertaining kids.
“We’ve only had one or two people who have come onto the set who have completely devalued what we do based on the fact that it’s for kids. For me, I give the same commitment; the same research goes into this that would go into an adult show. Even more so because I understand how important your child is to you and what you allow them to digest. I want you to watch this show and know that I’m there with you, that I understand that I want this to be real for your kids.”
So what’s the secret to keeping things real and believable for both cast and the audience? “We have to remember at all times that these are real people with real problems, and treat them and give them that kind of respect just in case someone comes in and treats them like their not important.”
Hobson loves Shout’s “devotion to his friends. It goes beyond just regular friendship; they’re like his family. Shout navigates through the Fresh Beat world as the calming voice of reason. He’s always there to help his friends out.”
Shayna Rose (“Marina”)
“There’s nothing else like this on television for this age group,” comments Rose. “And it has sort of an old school throwback feel to classic slapstick situation comedies.” With its new music and fresh, modern look, Fresh Beat Band incorporates those classic TV elements into a new and exciting series for youngsters to enjoy over and over again. “It’s a total family show. There’s something for all ages, even the parents and grown-ups to appreciate.”
This was one of the main reasons Rose became interested in doing the series. “It’s completely unique. It’s a totally original idea, with a lot of elements from different things. And I wanted to be a part of something that’s really different and new.”
Rose read for Kiki all the way until the end of the audition process, where they switched her role to Marina during the actual screen test.
Rose has done a number of acting gigs on show like Medium and even on soap operas. The major difference between those shows and Fresh Beat Band is the simplicity of the scripts. But the simplistic nature doesn’t make the work any easier. The more simple the material is, the more difficult it is, because you have to build more layers underneath it to make it live.” The cast has actually gotten into debates over character motivation, subtext, and whether or not a character would perform a certain action. All in the name of making sure the show retains a level of believability and continuity for its young audience.
Marina, in Rose’s view, “I’m the practical one, the logical one, the voice of reason. I think the cool thing about Marina is that even among all her practicality she can get swept up in the fun stuff. So she’s not all just practical and serious.”
So, what’s a typical week like on the set of The Fresh Beat Band? Here’s a quick look!
– Three hours of choreography for that week’s episode.
– Table-read for that week’s episode with cast and crew.
– Scene blocking on set; go to recording studio to record the songs for next week’s episode.
– Another round of choreography.
– Blocking all day.
– Blocking the dances on the set.
– Producers run of the episode.
– Taping of that week’s episode all day. The dances are usually taped on Fridays, which is both exciting and exhausting, according to the cast. This is due to the many camera angles that are needed, which means dances are shot multiple times.
Weekends off, and then the process begins over again Monday morning.
On any given day, after leaving the set, the cast members had to go practice their instruments for another couple hours in preparation for their use in the upcoming episode. There was also time spent with acting coaches and other one-on-one activities in preparation for the show ahead.
The songs for Fresh Beat Band are written and scored by Matter Music, which also does the music for The New Adventures of Old Christine, Rita Rocks, and a number of film, movie trailers and TV commercials.
The Fresh Beat Band airs Monday through Friday at Noon on Nickelodeon. For my review of the show, click here.