Interview with Steve McNicholas

29 October 2015 | INTERVIEW

Steve McNicholas- Stomp

STOMP was first created in Brighton, UK in 1991. It was the result of a 10-year collaboration between Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, the creators and directors of the show.

STOMP premiered at Edinburgh Festival in 1991, to critical acclaim and then went on from there to play to audiences around the world. 

Tell us about where STOMP began?

Luke and I first worked together as members of a band called Pookiesnackenburger in the eighties; I sang and played fiddle and guitar, whilst Luke played percussion. The group was part band and part street performance. As part of this Luke had played around with all sorts of STOMP-like ideas for a long time before STOMP was even an idea. He wanted to go beyond ‘just’ being a drummer, so he played things we found around him us the street, which could have been anything… a waste bin, a chair, bottles, glasses… this quickly became a feature of our performance. Then Luke had the idea for all six members of the group to play dustbins and that’s really what STOMP grew out of. Audiences liked the percussion so much that we started to experiment with making bigger pieces using different objects. Eventually we came to a point where we had all these different, disparate ideas and realised we had enough material to combine and make a whole new show.

What was your inspiration for the show?

There wasn’t really a single moment of inspiration for the show. There were a lot of artists, musicians and films that influenced our thinking. We were definitely inspired by groups like Kodo, the Japanese drumming group. Seeing them made us realize that it was possible to hold an audience’s attention for an entire show using predominantly drums and percussion. We were also inspired by the choreography in the film Stormy Weather which featured amazing performances by the tap dancing duo the Nicholas Brothers. Some of the routines in that film obviously inspired routines created by Fred Astaire, dancing with coat stands or brooms, or kicking a drum set. Another big influence was a company called Moving Picture Mime, who created wonderful rich, funny, theatrical experiences with no words and very little props. They certainly inspired us to keep dialogue out of STOMP.

Why do you think STOMP is so successful across the world?

When the show started, we didn’t expect it to have such broad appeal. It wasn’t in our minds to try and create something that would have such a long run, we were just making something we thought we would like to see ourselves. We were fortunate to have been inspired by wordless physical comedy, and also determined not to pastiche any particular musical style. As a result we unintentionally created something that spoke to people across the globe; the physical humour was universal, the sense of rhythm was universal and there was no dialogue or specific cultural references to get in the way. We soon found the show would work equally well in Japan, America, Russia, France… all over the globe. Over time it has shown an ability to sustain that popularity for the same reasons, but also because the show is constantly refreshed; both with new routines and by the performers themselves. So it always feels like a new show.

What challenges where faced when creating the production?

Finding somewhere that we could rehearse in without being thrown out because of the noise! Making sure that rhythms never settled into any kind of mesmeric groove. The show might look like an urban beats show, but to work as theatre it has to shift dynamics, metre and mood. It’s the show’s essential contradiction; it is a show about rhythm but not about settling into a groove! Once we were up and running, festivals and theatres weren’t sure how to programme us, and newspapers were not sure which critic to send, theatre, music or dance?

What is your favourite part of the show?

Personally it’s always been the ‘Pipes’ routine, because that’s the part of the show that defies the bin banging image the most; several pieces of radiator hose cut to different lengths and sounding like pizzicato strings. Tuned percussion on the move! I know Luke’s favourite will always be Hands and Feet, because it’s all about making rhythms without any kind of instrument at all, just your own body.

How did you discover what junk percussion instruments worked ?

Trial and error! Spending a lot of time in junkyards, DIY stores etc., sometimes just seeing something out of the corner of your eye out on the street, like a group of street cleaners just for a moment locking into a rhythm together.

How do you feel the production is relevant to young audiences today?

I think STOMP has always had an implicit ecological message; how can we re-use the junk and detritus we see around us? But for me, more importantly, it is about invention and discovery, exploration of the sounds we all make everyday and creating something new out of them. Invention, exploration and discovery are timeless, and hopefully our show sows some seeds in the minds of young audiences; take something you do every day, see everyday and turn it into something new, something inspiring.

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