STOMP! Yes…yes they do. They also CRASH! BANG! BOOM! TAP! BLOW! FLICK! LIGHT! CLANG! CLAP! SNAP! and giggle. STOMP is the legendary percussion show that originated in England, and has been running off-Broadway in New York for over 20 years. The show has no dialogue, but highlights all the creative ways we can make music with anything but proper drums. For every kid who was told to stop banging on your desk, this one’s for us.
Alan Asuncion has been with the show for 12 years. Marivaldo dos Santos has been with the show for 23! They are both drummers in a company that also includes dancers and actors.
ASUNCION: It’s still fresh for me. There’s a lot of improvisation involved. Every night you might be playing a different character. You know you don’t have to stand in a certain place on stage and our dynamics might change or tempo may change. So it really depends on the cast and the interaction of the audience.
DOS SANTOS: It’s one of the best gigs in town. The flexibility has allowed me to stay for 23 years. I’m able to work on other projects like Quabales, which is my social project in Brazil where we connect kids in poor neighborhoods with percussion. STOMP is actually the godfather; they’ve worked with me.
ASUNCION: It is abstract. The characters are almost like a concept and it’s more like your own take on the concept that they give you. For example, they might say, “This character is a little quirky. He’s weird. He doesn’t play a lot but what he does play it’s very tasty and makes a big impact.” So you’ve got to figure out how you can do that and what your reactions will be with when someone else reacts towards you. My character can also be a comedy character. There’s another guy who plays the comedy character very different from me. It’s all up to interpretation.
ASUNCION: I always try to put the music first before the character. We are given certain numbers that we have to play. And just because I’m a silly character doesn’t mean I can throw away that number. We’re pretty strict with the music and making it as clean and as tight as we can.
ASUNCION: I auditioned three times. It’s more of a workshop type setting. So there’ll be about 20 people on stage at a time and they’ll teach parts of the show such as “hands and feet” or “brooms” and see how comfortable you are picking up rhythms and interacting with other people on stage. Then they see how fast you could pick it up and if you look comfortable doing it. And the last thing they look for is kind of your personality on stage. What part of you makes me want to watch you on stage?
DOS SANTOS: You could have the best drum set guys come in, put a drum set out, and they would kill. But once you ask them to stand up and start stomping and clapping, it becomes a balance issue. Not everyone can do it.
ASUNCION: There isn’t really a STOMP body type, but the show definitely will keep you in shape. You are stressing your joints, so people do get injured. I still go to the gym. I try to keep my body balanced. I eat well and I just try to stay in shape.
DOS SANTOS: Before STOMP I played jazz with Steve Coleman. He helped me conceptualize rhythms, especially Cuban music, and think about music not just in terms of pocket. So when I came to STOMP I had a good idea, and they helped improve that idea of thinking different than just tick tick with a metronome.
ASUNCION: Yeah, it is fun! But since it is a theater show, they are pretty strict about putting on a show. Nobody wants to just watch eight guys & gals playing drums and having fun on stage. We have to sell our props and why it is important.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m not kidding when I say ‘playground’. Here’s raw rehearsal footage of them using basketballs.
DOS SANTOS: What makes the show special is the combination of so many talented people. It’s a small space even compared to all the other shows. You don’t have to speak English and there’s still audience participation. You just have to feel the music. People love that. We have funny parts. People love that.
ASUNCION: There are parts of the show where I’m still telling myself, “I can’t believe this is my job.” It’s like that feeling of playing “Locomotion” in a wedding band, and when you see everyone dancing on the floor, you get that rush. That’s why we play music.
I was fortunate enough to actually attempt a crack at the “track”. Alan and Marivaldo gave me a mini lesson on hands and feet. Balance and intent is everything. It’s way more difficult than it looks because the left/right does matter, and you’re driving your feet down.
Here’s the real thing.
And because we are drummers here, I’ll throw you one more of them drumming…while suspended. I haven’t had a chat with our lawyers, but I’d recommend not trying this at home.
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