When he was a boy, Kent Caldwell wanted to be a Power Ranger.
He grew up and became a Cirque du Soleil artist.
Close enough. Cirque artists don't fight to save humanity on a daily basis but, surprisingly, they do have a few things in common with Power Rangers.
Both do cool acrobatic moves while wearing colorful costumes. Masks are also a big thing with Power Rangers and Cirque performers.
Caldwell, 26, wears a mask and a fiery red/orange costume as a Firebird in Cirque's "Mystere" at Treasure Island, where he has performed since January. As a boy growing up in Charlotte, N.C., he was inspired by the Power Rangers to take up gymnastics.
"I just liked that they could do flips. I thought that was so cool," says Caldwell, who can do a few cool flips himself.
The oldest of three, Caldwell was the only member of his family bitten by the gymnast bug; he started competing at age 9 and continued throughout college. A two-time All American, he even helped his University of Michigan men's gymnastics team win an NCAA championship in 2009.
Caldwell studied art and design in college, intending to become a working artist of some kind. After graduating in 2010, the economy was not friendly to art types so he moved to Guatemala to coach gymnastics. His plan was to stay for a couple of years and then figure out what to do next.
As a gymnast, Caldwell was familiar with Cirque du Soleil but thought that he didn't have the talent to try out. Luckily for him, he was drawn into the world of Cirque by a teammate from his college days. Caldwell sent in an audition tape.
His specialties have always been vaulting and tumbling so Caldwell was surprised when Cirque called in 2011 to offer him a job as a Chinese pole artist in "Zed," the Cirque show formerly based in Tokyo. As a gymnast, he had the strength and foundation to learn things, such as how to dangle from a vertical pole, do flips and tricks on it and, in general, amaze audiences.
"Just getting used to the diameter of the pole and what happens when you turn upside down on the pole was (difficult)," Caldwell says. "That initial learning curve was maybe steep, but it was also fast. I struggled with poles the first month and then settled in."
"Zed" closed last December. Caldwell came to Las Vegas with 19 other cast members to join "Mystere," which has featured a Chinese pole act since 1993. Just because he has found a place in the world of theater doesn't mean Caldwell has abandoned his art. He still sculpts and paints and creates. Now that he has bought a house and is more settled, he plans to immerse himself in the local art scene. You can check out his work at kentcaldwell.com.
Adding the Chinese pole specialists - the Firebirds - allowed Cirque to add more difficult tricks to the act, which is a highlight of "Mystere," artistic director David Gomez says.
During a recent Chinese pole demonstration for participants of Cirque Week, the audience gasped and applauded those tricks. Chinese poles have always been a crowd-pleaser, Gomez says.
At eight minutes long, featuring 60 artists and stunning visuals, the Chinese pole act is a major part of "Mystere."
"The audience definitely keeps me going," says Caldwell, who has more than 500 shows under his belt. "Here, it's like every night is an experience. If it weren't for the audience, I would probably get really bored really fast."
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at email@example.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.