‘Tournament of Kings’ actor reflects on shutdown experience

It was an average night for Kellan Baker―an actor in the Excalibur’s Tournament of Kings dinner show―when he showed up for one of his nightly performances last March 14. After the show, the production team notified the cast that the show was going on a hiatus due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was interesting…going into work, doing our normal thing and then at the end of the shows being told,’ hey you’re not going to be performing for a while,” Baker said.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak issued a state-wide shutdown emergency declaration the next day that forced all non-essential businesses, including Las Vegas productions to halt their operations. 

Despite the gradual reopening of other non-essential businesses since the initial shutdown, the majority of the city’s major shows including the “Tournament of Kings” remain closed.

Although Baker may not be jousting with his fellow actors in front of hundreds of spectators on The Strip, the actor has used his time off to pursue his passion for theatre. 

“I’m doing what I can to occupy my hands with my time,” Baker said. 

Among one of the projects Baker has pursued during the lockdown is a one-man theatrical adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson pirate tale “Treasure Island.” The actor originally planned on debuting the swashbuckling adaption this spring but had to shelve plans due to the pandemic.

Baker has also performed in few other small-scale productions and independent student films since the shutdown including an adaption of the “The Odd Couple” put on by the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada.

While he is eager to battle it out again at The Excalibur, the actor has appreciated the extra free time he’s had to pursue other theatrical projects. 

“It’s the desire of many performers to tell many stories, not just one,” Baker said. Baker has also used the extra time to pursue other favorite pastimes such as leatherwork, painting, and camping. 

Still, the actor is eager to get back in the saddle and joust it out with his fellow cast members.

“I miss being a part of something that’s so wonderful to so many people, including the people who are in it,” Baker said.

The 35-year-old is a life-long actor that comes from a family of thespians. His father, Doug Baker, was one of the original cast members in the “King Arthur’s Tournament,” the precursor medieval show to the “Tournament of Kings.”

Baker has acted in various Vegas productions for over 25 years including as a child actor in “King Arthur’s Tournament” and the pirate-themed “Sirens of TI” at Treasure Island.

He’s also kept a family tradition of performing a one-man adaption of “A Christmas Carol” written by his father that he’s performed every holiday season for the past 14 years, including several dinner-performances at Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Las Vegas restaurant last December.

Baker has acted in over 10,000 performances of the “Tournament of Kings,” and has rotated through various roles in the sword-and-sorcery tale including Merlin, King Arthur, and The Kings of Hungary, and Ireland. 

There are no immediate plans to reopen the show as the pandemic continues, but Baker understands that at any given moment he could be called back to battle it out 

“I’ll grab broomsticks and do the fights from the show just to keep myself up on remembering the choreography,” Baker said. “Mentally it helps just keep you up on things.”

While Baker has mainly been able to stay afloat through unemployment aid and support from his family, he noted that it’s been difficult watching fellow cast members and other performers on The Strip struggling during the pandemic. 

“It’s a good thing to remind people that you make sure to reach out to your performer friends,” said Baker. “Make sure you validate who they are and what they are because they are going to continue to suffer for a while.” 

Baker feels that people often overlook how entertainers have been struggling due to the nature of their industry.

“I think it’s difficult to talk to the struggles that we’re having because of the simple fact our jobs are fun,” Baker said. “We do love our jobs.”

While there are no official plans to permanently end the show, other productions weren’t spared during the pandemic. 

Both “Le Rêve” and Cirque du Soleil’s “Zumanity” were forced to cease operations last year due to the pandemic, leaving many entertainers on the Strip worried that their show may be next. 

While it is a concern of his, Baker isn’t too worried about “The Tournament of Kings” ending production due to its nearly 30-year history on The Strip. 

“I don’t have a fear of it being taken away or becoming benign,” Baker said. “It’s also a story that is about good versus evil and good winning.”