Can’t Stop the Beat | Behind the Scenes with Beat Builders at Universal Studios Florida

April 13, 2023
Two construction workers, both wearing jeans and yellow vests, climb ladders next to each other in front of a light-gray building. The worker on the building's right wears an orange belt of pouches, a black tank top, glasses, and has a mini microphone at his mouth. The worker on the building's left wears a white hard hat, and brown-ish-orange boots with a white bottom. There is a wreath in the center of the building's front window. There are various shapes adorning the fancy-looking building. The ladders on either side are blue, with black rungs, and lead to orange scaffolding. The sky is blue, with misty clouds.


It’s a gorgeous day at Universal Studios Florida. A large crowd is gathered — right where New York meets San Francisco — to watch four performers, standing on scaffolding, making music with construction equipment.

This is the phenomenon known as Beat Builders.

The near-15-minute live percussion street show is mesmerizing to watch. It’s fast-paced, frenetic, and, most of all, fun. I wanted to better understand the show and its origins, so I met up with its creator Richard Cravens.

“Follow your bliss”: an origin story

Richard Cravens is a senior show director for Universal Destinations & Experiences. A former percussionist and entertainer himself, Richard exudes positivity when you talk to him. He tells me he’s always lived his life by one motto: “follow your bliss.” This motto is what led to the creation of Beat Builders.

For quite some time, Cravens wanted to combine his love for street drumming with his passion for theme park entertainment. There was just one thing he needed to figure out first: the story. And “story is king” — that’s Cravens’ other motto and, in talking with him, you can see he takes it seriously. So, what is the story behind Beat Builders? The idea came to Cravens one day when he was walking around Universal Studios Florida.

“A new ride was under construction in the New York area at the time. I was standing there on the corner, opposite where the attraction was being built, and the idea just hit me,” says Cravens. “Not only is that location the perfect place for a show, but the construction across the street was the perfect inspiration,” he continues. “We could tap into the construction element of theme parks and create a show where construction workers create street percussion using tools, equipment, and various other items.”

Building the Beat

Four people with microphones, dressed in construction worker garb, play the drums with construction equipment. The three on the left wear gray beanies, while the one of the right wears a white hard hat. There are three orange, wooden stands, each reading "Beat Builders" in white, blocky text, holding up the wood and various construction tools being used as drums. Two upside-down, blue garbage bins stand on two wooden platforms to the right and left of the workers on the far right and far left respectively. Under the stands of the far right and center left workers are orange bins, one of which seeming to read "let's do this," though some of the letters are cut off. Behind the workers is scaffolding in front of various building sets, as well as a canvas-like cloth with an orange diamond. Within a black border almost on the edge of the diamond are black silhouettes of a hammer and saw making a shape in the letter "X," and two drumsticks crossed in another "X" shape in the center. Near an orange traffic cone on the right of the far right "Beat Builders" sign are a group of people walking. Behind them is the gray show building for Transformers the Ride 3 D. The sky is blue, though fairly cloudy. The ground is concrete, and there is a sidewalk with a gray curb behind the four workers.

Cravens pitched the show idea, got the green light, and before he knew it, started crafting what would be known as the Beat Builders. I ask him where the whole creative process began, but the answer is obvious: a hardware store.

“I hung out there for about two days and went around drumming on just about everything I could find. I listened to the different sounds and picked the pieces I knew would work best in a street show,” he says.

From there, Cravens began casting for the show.

“First and foremost, obviously we needed exceptional drummers. But they needed to be much more than drummers. They also needed to be exceptional performers. They needed to emotionally connect with an audience and bring smiles to people’s faces,” Cravens says.

Cravens assembled a workshop cast, which included Andrew Frye, Mitchell Beckman, Jesse Schoenauer, and Dylan Charles (the latter two are in the show I’m watching today). But Cravens and his workshop cast would quickly find out the challenges associated with putting on a street percussion show.

“People in our parks are often in a hurry to get to the next thing,” says Cravens. “We’re basically asking people to not only stop for 15 minutes but to also stand in the hot sun. To do that, we better deliver something really exceptional.”

“Many of the current street shows in our parks are eight or nine minutes long,” Cravens continues. “We were creating a 15-minute show of non-stop action and movement.”

The workshop cast practiced their moves, experimented with pacing (both drumming and jokes), and perfected the show. They were ready to open.

An Immediate Hit

To say Beat Builders was an immediate sensation is not an understatement. Crowds at Universal Studios Florida were drawn to the bare bones set, the use of ordinary objects and construction equipment, and, of course, the stellar drumming.

“It was really amazing to see it all come to life,” says Cravens. “In the early days, guests would turn the corner and see our setup there and wonder, ‘Are they actually doing construction there?’ Then, of course, the show would begin and people would see what we were doing. It got people to stop. It drew them in.”

A Random Wednesday

A man in a blue, long-sleeved shirt, gray pants ,and white sneakers with a black strip smiles at the camera, while playing the drums on a bucket with yellow drumsticks. The bucket is one of four that hang on a pole, high above the ground on scaffolding, in front of an upside down, blue garbage bin sitting on a wooden platform. Various toolboxes line the front of the scaffolding. The man's head is turned toward the camera, which is to his right, though his body faces forward, out to a group of people walking in front of a body of water and other buildings. Behind him, on the ground, are several seemingly marble tables with closed-up, red and beige table umbrellas and black chairs. To the tables' left is the red-brick building for Fast & Furious — Supercharged. A bit of a blue sky with clouds is visible far behind the buildings.

It’s a random Wednesday and I’m standing with Cravens at the Beat Builders set. We’re waiting for the next show to begin. Like a proud parent, Cravens points out different elements of the set. He shows me the “rockinspiel,” an original instrument made of wrenches that he and the workshop cast actually built themselves. He lifts up an orange safety cone to show me the hidden microphone inside. He bangs on a rubber trash can before diving into a scientific explanation of percussion sounds. He even lets me climb up the scaffolding myself to stand high on the set and take in the view.

Meanwhile, Cravens can’t stop smiling. This is clearly a man who has followed his bliss. More on that later. The show’s about to start.


Two men in construction worker carb play the drums with light-brown-and-yellow drumsticks with white tips onto wood and metal construction materials. The man on the image's right wears a gray beanie, glasses, a microphone on his face, a watch, a silver ring, a dark blue shirt, an orange-yellow-and-silver construction vest, and jeans. The man on the left has his left leg, clad in blue jeans and a brown sneaker boot, in the air, while wearing a white hard hat, a red bandana, an earplug, a microphone on his face, a black tank top, and a matching vest to the first man. His drumstick is mid-toss, in the air, and his tongue is sticking out. He faces the first man. The hand of a third person, also holding a matching drumstick, is visible, though all else from that person is cut off. An orange, wooden sign reading "Beat Builders" in white, blocky text holds up the wood and tools being used as drums, and a second one is partially visible, along with part of an upside-down, blue garbage bin, but are also cut off. The background is blurred, though an orange diamond is visible on a canvas sheet. Within a black border almost on the edge of the diamond are black silhouettes of a hammer and saw making a shape in the letter "X," and two drumsticks crossed in another "X" shape in the center. Various pieces of blurry signage, as well as a tree, can be seen in the background too.

They arrive via cart and instantly the entertainment begins. Cravens had talked about needing to cast exceptional all-around performers and he wasn’t joking. These four drummers are doing it all: acting, cracking Dad jokes, literally moving around set pieces, and, all the while, showcasing really spectacular drumming.

The drumming is fast. Real fast. Like “blink and you’ll miss a killer move” fast. I’m trying to take it all in and notice everything. Perhaps the thing I notice the most, though, is that these performers legitimately seem to be having fun. Their smiles are genuine and the energy is infectious. They ask for a volunteer from the crowd. Before long, a young boy has joined the performance and is standing front and center with the Beat Builders. There’s even a cow bell.

Over the course of the show, the Beat Builders turn everything in sight into an instrument of percussion. Buckets, scaffolding, garbage cans, and more. Like I said, they legitimately seem to be having the time of their lives. So does the crowd who “ooohs” and “aaahs” along the way.

Behind the Beat

Six men pose for the camera, the outer two on each side all wearing a black shirt, a brown-ish-orange belt of pouches, an orange-yellow-and-silver construction vest, jeans, and a microphone on each of their faces. From left to right: a man lifting his right pointer finger and pinkie finger, wearing a gray beanie, glasses, and a black watch with a mustache; a man lifting his right pointer finger and pinkie finger, wearing a black and light-colored wrist band; a bearded-and-mustached man wearing sunglasses, a blue, button-up shirt, a lanyard with a white name tag and purple card, black wrist bands and brown pants pointing to his left with his right pointer finger and thumb; a man wearing a blue shirt and dark gray pants, with a black lanyard with a white nametag and purple card, and sunglasses on his collar, a man in a white hard hat with two orange letter "T"-s against black squares, giving a thumbs up, and a man in a gray beanie, holding up his left pointer finger and pinkie finger. They stand in front of the Beat Builder's scaffolding set, which is adorned in toolboxes and canvas sheets with an orange diamond. Within a black border almost on the edge of the diamond are black silhouettes of a hammer and saw making a shape in the letter "X," and two drumsticks crossed in another "X" shape in the center.

After the show, I have the privilege of spending some time with that day’s cast: original Beat Builders Dylan Charles and Jesse Schoenauer, along with Mike Hansen and Ian Clarey.

Remember what I said before about this group having genuine smiles? Backstage, as we talked, it was clear to me how much they all enjoy each other.

“There’s eight full-time Beat Builders,” says Charles. “It’s a small club and we’re all glad to be part of it.”

“There’s a culture among drummers,” says Schoenauer. “You come up from a drum line and play with different people. It all builds trust. The eight of us who do Beat Builders all trust each other completely.”

As we sit and talk, it occurs to me that none of these guys are even breathing heavily after the energetic performance I just witnessed. So how does a Beat Builder stay in show-ready shape?

“We have to train regularly,” says Hansen. “The workshop cast set the bar real high so we all have to push ourselves to maintain that.”

“We’ve got that camaraderie too,” says Schoenauer. “We push each other and hold each other accountable with everything. From being in shape to always raising the bar.”

One thing I noticed while watching the show is that the Beat Builders definitely have a loyal fan base.

“There are some regulars who come to several shows a day,” says Clarey. “We even have some guests who come to our shows wearing custom Beat Builders shirts. It’s amazing.”

While some guests come wearing custom Beat Builders merch, other guests come bearing compliments.

“We’ll have parents come up to us after a show and tell us that they saw our show six years ago and now their son or daughter is drumming,” Charles says.

“To have a parent tell you that their child was inspired to start drumming because of this show or have an adult come up and tell you that they themselves were inspired to start drumming because of this show is incredible,” adds Clarey.

This begs the question, what advice does a current Beat Builder have for someone who wants to, one day, become a Beat Builder?

“Just start drumming,” says Charles. “Once you start, you can’t stop.”

“Drum with as many different people as you can. Everyone has their own style and you’ll learn different things from different people,” Hansen adds.

Can’t Stop the Beat

Beat Builders opened nearly eight years ago. Since then, it’s had over 5,000 performances. There are currently 21 Beat Builders, including one female performer. The show even features two seasonal overlays, one for Universal’s Mardi Gras and one for Universal’s Holidays.

Do yourself a favor. The next time you’re at Universal Studios Florida and you’re speed walking from Revenge of the Mummy to a certain wizarding alley, take a moment to notice the construction site located on the corner between the New York and San Francisco areas. Six times a day, this area transforms into a powerful percussion performance that you need to see to really believe.

“I just wanted to create a street percussion show that would make our guests smile,” Richard Cravens tells me.

Well, congratulations, Richard. That’s exactly what you’ve done.

Do you remember the first time you saw Beat Builders? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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  • Reply Judy Carulli April 13, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    We were there in February and it was a great show. My grandson who is 16 and a drummer in high school was the chosen wanted to participate. It was quite a thrill for him and for us we’re coming back in December and I’m sure we’ll watch it again thank you for creating such a great show and things to the guys who perform their awesome.!

  • Reply Ian Clarey April 13, 2023 at 1:06 pm

    Thank you Rob Bloom!!! We still LOVE getting to perform for Universal guests from around the world every day!

    P.S. you really NAILED this article 💪

  • Reply Mike Hansen April 13, 2023 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you Rob!


  • Reply Samantha Allison April 13, 2023 at 4:19 pm

    My first few ventures to Universal, I never could figure out the start times for the show, and so I’d skirt the crowd.

    March 2nd, 2019, however, I went to the park with the intention of discovering shows. The previous day I had discovered Sing It! and Blues Brothers, and the Mardi Gras event, so it was only natural to check out Beat Builders. I showed up about halfway through the first set of the day, and the puns and jokes pulled me in. I came back to the next show, and got pulled into the audience participation portion of the show. I want to say that first day’s cast consisted of Ian, Romano, Dylan, and Caleb. These four brought me onto that set and made me feel at home up there. I enjoyed the show so much I attended all six set times that day, and would continue to do so for a while.

    I eventually fell out of going to all six shows, but I, admittedly, am one of the people that have showed up in a custom shirt. This show is the heartbeat of my Universal experience; the park would not be the same for me without it. I love that cast like brothers (I’ve yet to meet the female cast-member), and always look forward to seeing them on my visits. Every person that’s a part of this show is personable, and I’m grateful that the show remains in the park.

  • Reply Lc April 22, 2023 at 8:11 am

    Looking not too shabby

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