Without giving away any trade secrets, playing Cyclops for the new "Marvel Universe Live!" show requires a certain amount of strength and verve. You don't just put on a costume, strap on some cool shades and do what superheroes are expected to do. It takes practice. Hours and hours of practice. Timing is crucial, along with good balance, strength and nerve. After all, slugging bad guys as you jump off a moving vehicle isn't something you learn to do in your spare time.
That's one of the more challenging stunts performed by Tampa's Benjamin Aycrigg, who plays the role of Cyclops.
“Being able to leap off a car that's going fairly fast, and being able to keep control and land a punch without destroying myself, that's the biggest challenge for me right now,” said Aycrigg, who's now in training for the show, which opens with seven performances starting July 10 at the Forum in Tampa. “Doing it in front of a hometown crowd is a little nerve-wracking, but it's also pretty exciting.”
It's a good role for the former football standout at Riverview High School. After all, how many guys get to shoot lasers out of their eyes, pummel evil-doers and get paid for it? His mom probably doesn't care much for the moving car stunt, but according to Aycrigg, he has his family's full support.
“My parents think it's pretty cool,” said Aycrigg, 22. “My mom is scared of everything I do, but they're both very excited and they back me 100 percent.”
Football might have been Aycrigg's first career choice, his first love, but working as a stunt man is a pretty close second. He'd like to move onto film stunt work when he's done playing Cyclops.
“I played football my entire life, so when that ended, I jumped right into doing stunts when I was 19,” he said. “I started working at Medieval Times Tournament and Dinner, and from there I moved into theme parks in Orlando. Then I auditioned and got this job. I would love to move on to doing film stunt work — the guy in the background who gets blown up and thrown around.”
If it sounds a little risky, it is. But Aycrigg gets to spend the next 12 months pretending he's a superhero.
“I haven't been in Tampa for a couple years now, but I never pictured myself performing in front of a crowd at the Forum unless it was something for football,” he said. “I mean, growing up watching the Storm and the Lightning play there and now being able to perform in that arena? That's pretty special.”
It's not your average 40-hour week. Practice starts at 8 or 9 in the morning and continues to 7 at night.
“It's sort of a long day, but it has a lot of down time; and I'm usually trying to focus on gymnastics and stretching because in doing stunts, that's very important,” Aycrigg said. “Being a football player, I wasn't capable of that. I've been doing a lot of body-weight exercises.”
The workouts sound a little daunting.
“You start out with five pull-ups, 25 pushups and 25 jump-squats,” he said. “ And you continue to rotate, and you do 10 pull-ups and drop down to 20 pushups and 20 jump-squats. Then you do 15 pull-ups, 15 pushups, 15 jump squats. You keep doing that until you get to 25 pull-ups, down to five pushups and five jump squats, then you rotate all the way back up. Then you start back at the beginning.”
A 6-footer who keeps his weight at around 195 pounds, Aycrigg favors a high-protein diet.
“I'm still fairly new to performing, but if theme park performances hold any weight, I have been good friends with Prince Charming, fought for the Durmstrang Institute (a wizarding school from Harry Potter), squired and pirated for local dinner theaters, and I have done a 50-foot-high fall.”
Now he's on a bigger stage, with a show featuring 55 cast members.
“It's a lot of people. It gets pretty wild,” he said. “Cars flip, there's motorcycle jumping, pyrotechnics, a lot of really cool stage combat. Fans are going to be blown away right at the start.”