Interview with Steve McNicholas the co-creator of STOMP
Originating as humble street performers from Brighton, Stomp has slowly evolved into a global multimedia sensation. The unique percussion dance show has performed to sell out theatres around the world and as well as the Oscars, Emmys and recently the Olympics. Welovebrighton.com exclusively met with Steve McNicholas the co-creator of Stomp to discuss their achievements, their future plans and why they love coming back to Brighton.
I hear a congratulations is in order, as I believe yesterday [14th November, 2012] marked the 21st anniversary of Stomp, what a fantastic achievement for a truly unique performance group!
Steve McNicholas: Has it really been that long? … We formed in 1991, in Brighton actually, so yes I guess when you think about it, it has been 21 years, wow well cheers, (laughs) I’ll drink to that!
Firstly, can I begin by asking you the initial idea behind Stomp and did you ever envision it lasting this long?
S: Well, I will answer your question in reverse order… no (laughs). But initially me and Luke (the other creator) had been working in street performance and fringe theatre, my background has always been musical- I play guitar, violin and drums. So I would always be up front and work with the audience and Luke would be at the back with the drum, but then we figured out a way to attach a drum to a piece of string so he could move and dance with it and join me up front. So it grew from there, really. We broke down the barrier between drummer and performer, and as the two began to merge we felt we had something special.
And the concept of using props such as bins and broomsticks, how did that come into all of it?
S: That’s funny actually, one day, we were in Convent Garden and there was a group of Burundi drummers performing in the piazza… who were absolutely fantastic, I mean amazing drummers. And at the end of it, they picked the drums up on their shoulders and all walked off in a line out of convent garden. And we sort of all looked at each other and said, they look like dustbin men! And, that was it… that was the moment the idea formed.
I guess back then, that sort of crazy drumming would have never been seen before, you must of really broke the mold.
S: Well there were some groups around that did similar things; I think there was a group in France who played cauldrons. But it was all either extremely avant-garde art or it was very hippy, we were determined to make it performance you know… make it theatrical. I mean anyone can bang a dustbin or a cauldron but to make it into a show to be able to make it into theatre is what Stomp did. I think we defiantly broke the mold in that sense.
And in terms of nowadays, obviously you have seen your fair share of the performance industry; do you think it has changed since you stared all those years ago?
S: Oh it has completely and magically changed!
In what ways?
S: Well a big part of that change is that we are part of the industry now. I mean after Stomp there were a lot more shows that started to emerge, that were rhythmic and weren’t so contemporary.
So Stomp were the revolutionaries of the performance industry?!
S: (Laughs) I wouldn’t go that far… I think we have defiantly helped push things a little bit more left wing. But I predominantly feel the industry has really transformed by television, television has changed everything and not necessarily for the better. I find the whole celebrity thing and the competition thing gets a bit jaded. For instance I’ve seen there now is a Britain’s best Amateur Theatre Group for goodness sake! On one hand great! But on the other I think it gives people the wrong idea about how to get into the industry, I mean people dedicate their whole lives to performance, to dance and to music and TV seems to be ignoring this by …
S: One way of looking at it, but more so by making bypassing the hard work and expecting you to become a superstar instantaneously. I don’t think it is right… but then again there is a great debate to be had on that topic.
But Stomp let’s be honest, has had such massive success over the years. I mean performing at the Oscars, the Emmy’s and recently the Olympics, if you had the chance to re live three moments in your career again, what would they be?
S: Well in terms of peak moments in our career you can’t get much higher than those! We have also performed at three royal variety shows, and the last one we did was fantastic because they didn’t just ask us to Stomp, we put together a whole opening performance with Kodo drummers from Japan, flamenco dancers, we had the British imperial brass band, we had parkour and some free runners as well as loads of other performers and of course Stomp, and those 5 minutes of performance was just simply magical.
I bet that was a moment in your life when you closed your eyes and thought: ‘I have really made it!’
S: (Laughs) Yes I guess I did… But as far as the show is concerned I remember in Adelaide when we first started out there were moments when me and Luke looked at each other and we just knew we had got something that was working, everything was gelling, the audience were captivated and we just knew it was going to be a success… I would love to go back and re live those moments of pure enjoyment and anticipation for what the future held.
Having toured all over the world, I understand Brighton is an especially important place for Stomp, can you tell us a little bit more about why that is?
S: I attended Sussex University and Luke was born and bought up here, it is a bit like a horror film you know where you keep getting dragged back (laughs), I have lived in numerous places but Brighton is the place for me. It is a beautiful and diverse city; I honestly don’t think Stomp could have started anywhere else except Brighton. The fact that we are so successful today I firmly believe is due to Brighton being so accepting of us in the first place. It is all down to the mix of people you have here, that mix you don’t have anywhere else in the world there is something very special about it and I am convinced that our success is down to how accepting this city was in the early days.
And you will soon be performing at the Brighton Dome next month!
S: I know we cannot wait, and you should see some of the things we have in store, it is going to be fantastic…
Yes, before you go tell us a bit more about the projects you have lined up and what does the future hold for Stomp?
S: Well the Brighton Dome is a big one for us and we look forward to performing there with both Stomp and the Stomp Orchestra… and the next major project is next spring we are planning, to start shooting on Stomp the Movie which will be the next big thing on 3D.
Wow you seem to be a very busy man! Can you see Stomp lasting for another 21 years?
S: (Laughs) Well I certainly won’t be around, but you know I really don’t know we never ,in our wildest dreams, would have said it would last this long… so who knows? As long as our audience keeps on loving us we will keep on performing.
WORDS: Flora Hamilton