STOMP coming to Cal Poly's Performing Arts Center

STOMP brings its percussive beats to the Cohan Center at Cal Poly next week.
STOMP brings its percussive beats to the Cohan Center at Cal Poly next week. COURTESY PHOTO

When the producers of STOMP place audition notices on Facebook and YouTube, wannabe performers line up around a New York block for a week, said Eric Fay, one of the fortunate applicants to become a performer.

For Fay, being in the cast of the high-energy percussion group is a dream come true, he said in a phone interview from Billings, Montana, where STOMP was touring last week before its return to Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center.

“I saw STOMP when I was eight years old and decided that was what I wanted to do.”

He describes STOMP as “a percussion show that uses ordinary objects to make music. We get beautiful different melodies and sound from things that you can find in people’s garbage cans.”

Fay worked up to STOMP by studying drumming and marching band and working with CREW, a San Diego percussion and movement group that tours and visits San Diego schools to promote the arts. But there are no requirements for auditioning for STOMP, he said. In addition to percussionists, the cast includes dancers, singers, actors, and others who have the vibes and potential.

STOMP was created in England in 1991, the result of a 10-year collaboration between Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. After working together on various theater and music projects, they came up with STOMP, a combination of percussion, movement and visual comedy.

There are no words, and the show has no plot.

Rhythm is the only language in the athletic, high-energy performances. Cresswell and McNicholas still design the acts. The founders describe STOMP as “90 minutes of pure percussion, by the light and shade of a show that contrasts humor with muscle and sweat, and that combines the raucous with the delicate.”

The actual rhythms of a piece are set, and everyone has to drum, whether they learn drumming skills in rehearsals or are already working musicians.

“The show is 75 percent written and 25 percent improv,” Fay said. “There is a structure to follow, but we do our own thing within the structure, and we solo on our own.”

There are four companies, the U.S. tour, and New York, London and European troupes. There are 12 members in a cast, with eight people in each show. The performers in this tour are between 19 and 39 years old. One of the cast members, Guy Mandozzi, was in the group that performed at the London Olympics ceremonies.

The show has changed over the years. Audience favorites endure, but some pieces are removed and others added. The changes in the current tour are the biggest since the late 1990s.

A new piece, “Paint Cans,” evolved out of the “Boxes” routine, and “Donuts” is a piece that implements huge tractor tire inner tubes worn around the waist on a bungee cord. The paint cans are played with hands and the inner tubes with drum sticks, Fay said.

For many years, the creators had looked for a way to emulate the Latin percussion instrument the guiro, a gourd-shaped, open-ended instrument with ridges along the side that are rubbed by a wooden stick to create its sound. The climactic trash-can sequence “Bins” has been restructured to include a guiro-like new-found instrument: strip-lighting recycling containers.