You can grate parmesan cheese with my hands,” said Hugo Cortes as he and Emma King showed us their calluses and bruises. The injuries are badges of sorts from performing in “Stomp,” the theatrical show that combines percussion, movement and physical comedy.
We were in London’s West End, inside Ambassadors Theatre, talking to “Stomp” cocreator and director Steve McNicholas and “Stompers” Hugo, Emma, Adam Buckley and Shae Carroll (Emma, Adam and Shae will be performing in Manila next week) about the show’s successful 23 years.
Steve and his friend Luke Cresswell, a self-taught percussionist, created “Stomp” in 1991. Since then, it has had successful runs on Broadway and the West End, and has toured around the world including the Philippines in 2011. “Stomp” is no longer just a theater production, it has become a cultural phenomenon. Its cast has performed at the Oscars and the London Olympics, has made appearances on Nickelodeon and HBO, and has been featured in commercials for Coca-Cola, Target, Toyota and Dolby Digital (which ran in cinemas in the Philippines).
Over the years, the show has released IMAX movies, short films and DVDs, and has raked in awards and nominations.
Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and Concertus Manila are bringing Stomp back to the Cultural Center of the Philippines from June 17 to 22. The show will feature a cast that includes 17-year veteran Filipino Stomper Andres Fernandez. “We call him Pooh, Pooh Bear. He’ll be playing multiple roles. He’s probably one of only one or two performers in the world who can do every role in the show. He can do everything,” said Steve. “We’ve had a lot of Filipinos over the years and pretty much all of them are top-league Stompers. I don’t know what it is about the Philippines. You make great Stompers.”
And, according to Steve and the Stompers, even if you watched the show in 2011, you’d want to see it again. “It can be watched four, five, six times in maybe a couple of years anywhere in the world and you get a different show. You have to come and see the show. It’s really hard to explain how clever and how good it is to watch it—even for people who don’t like theater,” said Adam Buckley.
“Stomp” puts together an interesting mix of people onstage—dancers, percussionists, comedians and actors—and, using a variety of everyday objects from brooms, dust bins and basketballs to newspapers, lighters and kitchen sinks, they create beats and rhythms and put on one hell of a show.
The show itself continues to evolve, with new sounds and routines added regularly. “I don’t think you’ve seen the Trolleys have you? And you haven’t seen Frogs,” said Steve. “It’s really important for us that the show is funny and fun.”
The show is indeed funny, fun and playful. And the actors find a way to communicate with their audience without using words. “Stomp” is universal, its creators say, and we agree. It speaks all languages.
That evening, they performed in front of a packed house that had such a good time they seemed unwilling to let the performers leave the stage. We can’t wait to have the same experience in Manila.
“I think that’s part of the secret of the show’s success. When you see any of the shows, it feels like the original, it doesn’t feel like a copy, like ‘Oh this is the touring company, it’s not the Broadway company or it’s not the West End company.’ To us they’re all equally important,” said Steve.
Adam Buckley and Shae Carroll
Adam, who will most likely play the group leader Sarge in the Manila shows, first auditioned for “Stomp” in 2003. He didn’t get in. It took four more years and two more auditions before he finally joined the show. “Third time lucky,” he said. He’s been with the show for seven years now and has fun connecting with audiences as Sarge. “We’re all in it together. You want it to build to the big finish, and then we play around in the end and everyone’s involved. It’s a rock concert in that sense. It becomes … we’re going to watch a gig as opposed to we’re gonna sit and watch a theater show.”
Shae, a breakdancer, is new to “Stomp,” having joined the company only seven months ago. “The other week, I found an old video of me when I was 8 playing pots and pans, and it just made me laugh, being where I am now.”
Did you always know you had good rhythm?
Shae: I’ve always had rhythm, whether it’s good or not I’ve never questioned. I come from a dance background so rhythm’s in me and I’ve always, from a young age, danced. I’ve always tapped around.
Adam: I come from a dance background… I did a lot of tap-dancing as a kid. The main word that was used in the dance world was musicality. “You’ve got great musicality.” Luckily, it’s very natural to me.
A lot of dancers aspire to join the more traditional West End shows. Why did you choose “Stomp”?
Adam: Because I’m absolutely opposite to those people, really. For me, “Stomp” is probably the only job on earth that could use my skill set. I’m not into musical theater, I’m not gonna lie. I’m not the biggest fan especially when it’s not inspiring. That’s why “Stomp” to me is a beauty. There’s so much (room) for improvisation, character choices, audience interaction and reaction. The show is never the same. It’s not come to the front, do your bit and go off.
Shae: I think that’s the best thing about the show as well. With other shows, you’re given a role and you have to play him in a certain way. With “Stomp,” we’ve got our characters but it’s totally down to the person to give the personality they want to give. You bring so much more to it than any other show. With this show, you are you.
Adam: Your character in “Stomp” is an extension of your personality, which is why everyone playing the same role is different. You have your own thing. That’s what keeps it fresh for me. It’s never the same. It’s great fun to be a part of, and you have so much freedom to express yourself. It doesn’t get boring. And you’re always learning something because there’s so much to learn.
Which of the props did you have the hardest time working with? And which do you love the most?
Shae: From the beginning, my favorite has been the broom. That’s the first thing we learn in training. But the last number, you’re wearing bin lids on your hands and, being a breakdancer, I try to incorporate those moves. You need to make everything bigger or a couple of times you might flip your head or get close to yourself because you’re not used to having massive bin lids in your hands.
Adam: I really struggle with the drumsticks, as silly as it sounds. I was not a drummer … ugh, murder, murder, with those drumsticks.
That’s so weird because it’s the most normal thing.
Adam: Exactly! That’s the thing! You’d expect that if you’re in “Stomp,” you’re a drummer. But no.
Shae: It’s one of the only things in the show that you can actually buy in a music store.
And the one that you enjoy the most is?
Adam: Me, my body, body percussion. That was the easiest and most comfortable thing for me, to be allowed the freedom to express yourself. It’s very busking-esque. I started busking quite a bit before I got into the show, and that really helped.
You have people coming in from other “Stomp” companies—how much time do you have to work with them before the shows in Manila start?
Adam: When we first get to Manila, we will acclimatize and then do a sound check. The people who are coming in to the company will sit and watch the whole thing. They’ll just get it. The next day, we’ll get at least an hour with them, and rehearsal is geared to making sure they’re comfortable. These are superstar Stompers coming in, there will be no problem for them to get up to speed. Very much looking forward to that as well.
Will you have time to have fun in Manila?
Adam: Yeah. I’m going ahead to experience it. I want to enjoy it. This show is very draining. In terms of show week, I won’t be doing a lot. It will be show, go home, air-con, relax, stretch, maybe do a few bits in the day, but I’m going to do my Philippine experience in that first week when I’m not working.
Emma King and Hugo Cortes
Emma was an orchestral percussionist for four years before joining “Stomp”: “I auditioned for fun.” After two attempts, she made it and has become a powerful presence on the Stomp stage for the past seven months.
A trained dancer and choreographer, Hugo Cortes already had musical and film experience when he auditioned for “Stomp.” “I saw the show in 2005; and I ran backstage and asked them, ‘Please, please let me audition now.’ Two years later, I joined the company. If they didn’t hire me, I would have come to the door, and I would beat on it until they opened it. I really fell in love with the show.”
Like Adam, Hugo has been with “Stomp” for seven years. “‘Stomp’ for me is one of the best gigs because of the blend of everything— dancing, acting, performing, tumbling, playing.”
What kind of injuries do you guys get on the show?
Hugo: Every kind. Once you see the show, you realize how physical it is. There’s space for a lot of injuries. Even though we rehearse every day to avoid that, things you don’t expect can happen.
Does it throw you off if somebody else makes a mistake?
Hugo: If it’s massive, we’re like, “Huh? What was that?” That’s one of the challenges for the leader of the show, the guy that’s playing Sarge. If something goes wrong, he’s the person that everyone will look at and go, “OK, what do we do?”
Emma: If something goes wrong, there’s a backup plan. If somebody drops something, we’ll go from this point or we’ll go from that point.
Are you enjoying the difference between orchestra work and “Stomp”?
Emma: Oh yeah. Completely different but so much fun. You get to express yourself a lot more. With an orchestra, you’re literally playing the dots whereas here you have a lot of free rein to express yourself onstage.
Was having to move onstage an adjustment?
Emma: Completely, yeah. From standing to doing all this, that’s completely different. I’m still trying.
Hugo: She’s good.
Shae talked about finding a video of himself playing with pots and pans. Was that something you did as kids, too?
Hugo: Yeah, I used to play literally on everything. I think most of us performing onstage always had that little itch of playing around. You’ll see me with my headphones, playing on the bus and have people looking at me, and when I realize it, I’m like, “Sorry.”
Emma: I was doing it in a bus the other day. I was sitting there working on my hands and feet solo, and it was really light, I didn’t even notice that some people were like, “What are you doing?”
Which is the hardest instrument for you and the most fun?
Emma: The hardest one for me is my body, the whole hands and feet routine, because I’ve always been used to having something to play. There’s your instrument, there are your beaters. But actually playing yourself, it’s definitely the toughest routine for me. The last one, the bins are the most fun for me.
Hugo: The body for me is extremely hard. Having a dancer background and learning how to use your body in a different way and then coming to “Stomp” and your right hand is doing (something) different than your left hand and your left foot is completely against your right, it’s crazy. That’s very challenging. But I have fun in the show when I have the lids in my hands. I get to do shapes and acrobatics with them. That for me is one of the best.
Hugo, do you get to use your salsa moves?
Hugo: Yeah, we use salsa moves, we use capoeira moves, Riverdance, some acrobatics, ballet. There’s this running man thing that Emma does. She has amazing jazz hands.
Do you guys practice at home and how do the people living with you feel about it?
Hugo: Oh, man. I had two letters complaining about noise. I’m responsible for the ending groove of the show. If I hear music, I’m like, oh, I can use that. So I’m banging, trying to imitate the sound that we normally do in the show, and then you have neighbors complaining. And then during rehearsal time, I have brooms at home, basketballs, poles. People are like, “Oh, you’re the guy from 506?” And I’m like, “Sorry, I apologize in advance. Come down, see the show so you would understand what I do.”
“Stomp” runs at the CCP Main Theater from June 17 to 22. For tickets, call 8919999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph. Prices range from P800 to P5,500.