Stomp finds percussion in unconventional places Sound stage: Everyday objects become rhythm instruments that all audiences seem to understand.

November 20, 1995|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many people lift garbage cans and push brooms for a living, but few of them earn applause for doing it on stage.

However, that's exactly what the eight members of the percussion-mad troupe known as Stomp will do starting tomorrow night at the Lyric Opera House.

"We'll use any kind of non-traditional percussive instrument," boasts company member Matthew Pollock from a tour stop in Green Bay, Wis. He's not kidding. The carefully choreographed, sometimes noisy musical numbers depend on rubber hoses, garbage cans, matchboxes, brooms, paper cups, Zippo lighters, hubcaps and oil drums.

Audiences pay good money to see this -- even if they aren't quite sure what to call an art form so defiant of the norms.

"You can't describe it as performance art, which has such bad connotations," Mr. Pollock says in a stab at definition. "It's not theater in a conventional sense. It's theatrical percussion. There's no plot, but only eight performers up there that you can follow. We take you on this journey for 90 minutes. For audiences, it's a cross between going to the theater and going to a concert."

The members of Stomp feel no need to speak on stage; their objects-turned-instruments speak for them. Mr. Pollock says it's the rhythmic nature of the experience that has given Stomp such international success.

"The show is so universal in appeal because it's based on rhythmic feelings everybody has," he says. "Audiences will see us pushing brooms on stage and then they go home and the next thing you know they're sweeping the kitchen floor and they're hearing the rhythms of life. The show enlightens people to what's going on around them anyway."

More specifically, the rhythms running through the show have sources ranging from Brazilian to African music. And there are many of the hip-hop sounds of contemporary urban streets.

"There's definitely a blue-collar, industrial feel to it. That's where it's coming from, the streets. The creators of the show started as buskers," he explains.

The founding members to whom he refers, Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, created Stomp in Brighton, England, in 1991. They had backgrounds in street bands and theater groups, performing in the same donation cap-in-hand tradition as the buskers represented in the Tommy Tune musical "Buskers" that recently appeared at the Mechanic Theatre.

These contemporary buskers achieved recognition for Stomp at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1991, then went on to perform at international theater and comedy festivals. They also made videos and TV commercials.

Stomp was an immediate hit in New York when its British cast opened off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theater in Greenwich Village in 1994. That production is still running in New York with an American cast, and there also are two American touring companies.

Although some of the cast members appearing at the Lyric have worked professionally as drummers, most of them are like Mr. Pollock in that they have acting and dancing credits and have developed percussion skills since joining Stomp.

"I was always beating on the dinner table," Mr. Pollock, 28, says of his upbringing in the San Francisco Bay area. After receiving a theater degree from Emerson College in Boston, he moved to New York and has worked there as an actor, singer and dancer.

Having been a company member for a year and a half, he says the show's combination of disciplined movement and improvisation ensures he stays fresh on stage.

"The numbers are tightly choreographed and you want to be in the right place at the right time so you don't get hit in the face with a garbage can. But in some numbers there's also tremendous room for improvisation. If you're tired of something, you can change it.

"So it's not like other shows that are set in stone. All of a sudden you can think of a riff and do something different to make it fresh for everybody."

He's also kept fresh by the need to be sensitive to audience response during those moments when Stomp invites us to clap along.

"A lot of the show works with the audience and so you've got to listen, which is a good thing. It's about listening in general. As performers, we've got to listen to each other to maintain a solid groove, and also listen to the audience so you don't shut them out."

'Stomp'

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 8:30 p.m. Saturday; and 7 p.m. Sunday. Through Nov. 26

Tickets: $19-35

Call: (410) 481-SEAT

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