If music is a universal language, why not add comedy and the use of household objects to the mix?
That is pretty much what Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas did in the early 1990s when they originated STOMP, the live show that combines percussion, movement and improvisation to the delight of audiences around the world. After 50 countries, STOMP has been seen by 20 million people and counting. DC audiences are being added to the count when STOMP bangs its way into Washington’s National Theatre for seven performances.
Synchronized stiff-bristle brooms become a sweeping orchestra, eight Zippo lighters flip open and closed to create a fiery fugue; wooden poles thump and clack in a rhythmic explosion. STOMP uses everything but conventional percussion instruments – dustbins, tea chests, radiator hoses, boots, hub caps – to fill the stage with a compelling and unique act that is often imitated but never duplicated.
STOMP has garnered awards such as the Olivier Award for Best Choreography, a New York Obie (Off-Broadway), a Drama Desk for Unique Theatre Experience, and a Special Citation from Best Plays. Filmed versions have earned nods from the Academy Awards and the Emmys.
We caught up with long-time cast member and current rehearsal director Ivan Delaforce just before the stomping began here in DC. When he is not in STOMP, he lives in Las Vegas with his wife and children.
For someone who may have never heard of or seen the show – which is difficult to imagine – describe it for us.
It’s rhythmic, percussion, comedy; there’s not an actual storyline. It’s a rhythmic journey you go on with the personalities of the people in the show. We make music with everything including the kitchen sink. It’s the kind of show anyone of any age can appreciate and enjoy. And there is no language barrier, even with the comedy in the show. A lot of people don’t realize it’s so funny.
How long have you been with STOMP?
I started in 1995. The first two years, I did it full time. In 2007 to 2009, I did two years full-time in Las Vegas. I have not always been full-time but I have not gone a full year without doing it at least a bit.
Did you ever imagine when you started you would stick with it this long?
Not at all but I’m glad it’s still going. When I started, STOMP was just this cool thing I really wanted to be part of. I never thought it would last.
What was your role in STOMP in 1995 and what is it now?
When first got hired I was a performer. During the first two years, I learned a couple of roles and I served as a swing, so I could sub in when someone was sick or on vacation. By the second or third year I was there a lot of originals weren’t doing it and I became the rehearsal director, like a resident director. That job is to make sure music is still happening and show is going the right direction, keeping it what we know show to be and not losing what original directors wanted. Later, I left that full time position and I shuffled around between various casts over the past ten years or so – New York, London, Europe. It was great getting to see all these different places and work with a bunch of different people. It’s all come full circle and now I am full time again as a performer and rehearsal director on the American tour.
Why have you stuck with it?
It never gets boring, always stays fresh. The show has changed and evolved over the years, usually with a handful of changes that go into it. In 2007, we put together the Vegas show and that version was written specifically for that run. We had twice the number onstage, which is usually a company of twelve with eight onstage. It was great being there for the creative process for the Vegas show. It’s also cool because some of the new things created for Vegas are now part of the show we’re touring now.
Who decides what goes onstage?
Luke and Steve still oversee all the creative aspects of the show, they are in charge of the big changes. They come up with the new ideas, create the numbers and they put them in. We have some liberty during each performance. Night to night, we switch in and out 12 performers, having eight onstage for the show. There is a structure that we follow and specific choreography and timing is very important, but we can change how we get from one place to the other. And when there are solo sections, the individual performers compose their own.
If someone has seen STOMP before, why should they come back now?
It’s a different show and now we have a couple of new numbers that we have added in the last year and a half. One number we call “Trolley” is with shopping carts. We do that in “five” – which will mean something to people who know music. For “Trolley” it’s for people who ever wanted to fly around in a supermarket in the grocery cart. We also now have “Frogs,” which uses flexible plumbing hoses, the kind the can work like an accordion. They can make a sound like frogs. In the last few years, if folks have not seen us in a while, we have also added inner tubes – we call them doughnuts – and paint cans. The paint cans came from the Vegas show, but it’s been adapted. And we still have the brooms, poles, and other things people come to expect. But another thing that is different is how the show flows; it flows in a different way than it used to.
What do you think the appeal is and why has it lasted this long?
I think because it was developed from people of all different backgrounds. And the fact that it is rhythm based. We all have heartbeats. We hear people say how they aren’t rhythmic, but they really are. It’s in each of us, it’s just whether you recognize it or not.
What is the coolest reaction you have gotten from an audience or audience member?
The one funny one I remember was this guy jumped up on stage, when we were taking the bows at the end. We weren’t sure what to make of him. We were bowing and here comes this guy, dressed in one of those long coats and a hat, like a cowboy. But he just wanted to shake our hands.
Reactions vary from city to city, like in Japan, they do not make any noise during the performance. But at the end they cheer. Whereas usually in America, it’s like a rock show all the way through.
How about your most memorable STOMP experience?
I was there when STOMP got to be part of President Clinton’s Millennium Celebration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 2000. We were so lucky to be part of that. We got to go to a party afterwards and I got to shake Clinton’s hand. He saw me and recognized me and said, “Hey, great job.” I have to say that’s a number one. And during rehearsal, we were looking out over the mall – that was huge.
As rehearsal director, what is one thing you tell your performers, especially the new ones?
I like to remind them, Steve and Luke hired them for what makes them special. I try to tell them to push the boundaries and see what they can do, while still keeping within Luke and Steve’s vision.