STOMPede in Manila
It’s hard to define the genre of STOMP. It’s not a musical with live orchestra and theatrically trained singer-actors. It’s definitely not a straight play, opera, circus show, concert, or even a dance-off.
A modern vernacular some people use to describe it is “physical theater,” where physicality performance aspects such as acrobatics, body movement, street dance and pantomime are collectively used to produce a non-traditional show.
STOMP has been around since 1991, and its lack of a formal definition is probably what makes it alluring to almost any type of audience and age group. You have a troupe of young and good-looking performers with a knack for rhythm. They make use of junkyard materials such as wheels, garbage bins, cans, and makeshift percussion sticks to create a flow of numbers (is it dance, tap, or acapella?) that lasts for about 100 minutes.
The storyline? None really; it’s just another rhythmic day at the coolest abandoned factory or neighborhood junkyard of your dreams. The STOMP style has been replicated around the world since its inception in the UK in the ’90s. I’ve seen numerous movies, TV shows, and street performers try their hand (and feet) at making music and dance using just their bodies and everyday junk such as pipes, mops, broomsticks, and even the kitchen sink.
The touring UK group of STOMP is back in Manila for its second quickie. It opened on June 17 and will end on June 22, so book your tickets before you blink and they exit stage left. I missed the 2011 show, but got to meet the cast yesterday at the press conference, where they gave us a glimpse of what’s to come for STOMP virgins such as myself.
For both newbies and longtime STOMP fans, here are five tidbits I learned from the performers yesterday:
1. There’s a Pinoy in the group. His name is Andres Fernandez, born and raised in Hawaii, but is proud of his Visayan and Kapampangan roots. “I’ve been with stomp for 17 years,” he told us yesterday.
2. There’s no specific training or audition process. It’s not like traditional theater where you need to be trained in reading musical notes or enunciating lines. Each performer comes from a different background, such as percussion, dance, classical theater, improv, and acting. It’s all about the person’s ability to work rhythmically with the group and utilize their personality and skills. “In the audition, you have a lot of time—where you have to do four-bar solos ‘cause the guys want to see your personality. What do you do when you just have four bars?” said STOMP performer Emma King. Andres did a somersault in his LA audition in 1997, Irish drummer Emma impressed the producers with her percussion skills, while New Zealander Ian Vincent wowed with his dance moves. “Coming from different backgrounds, none of us really knew what to expect with STOMP,” Emma added. “We all brought some things to the table.”
3. Something’s always broken. There are about 50 brooms ready for the day’s show, while 50 more brooms are in boxes just in case something breaks. “Five brooms get broken per show, sometimes only one or two may be broken, other times six or seven,” shared STOMP Production Manager Jason Culverwell. And we haven’t even discussed the broken teeth, muscles, and other bodily injuries yet.
4. It’s not all play. If you think it’s easy to just grab plastic bottles and tap your feet to a random beat with your friends, take it from the cast: “We’re paid to get injured!” they joked, referring to the numerous scrapes, sprains, and other bodily injuries they got from both rehearsals and live performances. It takes weeks to months of practice to get a performance number right. “A lot of it is trial and error; the more we do it, the safer it gets,” said STOMP co-creator Luke Cresswell. “Nowadays you have to be safe straight away, but back in the day we can afford to break a leg!”
5. The outfits and props are real—not tailor-made. The performers don’t use special tap-dancing or jazz shoes—just their regular favorite pair of shoes that they deem fit for the show. “I’ve used these boots for years now!” Andres said, pointing to the pair of brown boots he’s using in the Manila run.
I’m watching the entire live show for the first time tonight. STOMPERS, please don’t break a leg!
STOMP Limited Manila Run: June 17-22 at CCP Main Theater, Manila, Philippines
Tickets are available at Ticketworld