How Stomp keeps the beat going

A veteran performer in the 26-year-old stage sensation reveals how the madly rhythmic show stays so fresh

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      Stomp star Jeremy Price gets to release that primal urge to bash everything in sight each night he performs—an urge that for most of us, sadly, ends around the time we stop smashing pots together in our parents’ kitchen. But make no mistake: a lifetime of high-level training has led him to the 26-year-old show that wildly mixes percussion, dance, acrobatics, comedy, and acting. Just don’t ask him what it is he does, exactly.

      “When you’re a Stomp-er, you’re definitely a professional… But a professional what?” the affable artist says with a laugh from Chicago, where his troupe has a rare long run before heading to Vancouver for Stomp’s first show here in more than a decade. “Well, it’s definitely hard to describe what I do.”

      He may not be able to categorize his career choice that easily, but the veteran Stomp-er can readily trace the path that brought him here. Not that there’s any set résumé or route that will get you into the show.

      Steve McNicholas

      “When I was seven years old, break dancing was surfacing and I loved moving,” Price recalls. “As I got older I became fascinated with why I wanted to move and became more of a musician. For Stomp, you don’t necessarily have to be able to dance, but you have to move well.” His search for an instrument took him, in his early teens, to the drums. He pursued them to virtuosic levels—and is still keeping the beat at 39.

      “I heard about Stomp my last year of high school—a friend of mine told me about this crazy show where people were playing trash cans and I went and saw it in my hometown. I thought it was fascinating,” he says. “I ended up putting myself through college playing music. And then I asked myself why I was in college.”

      That led him to auditions for Stomp—with more than a thousand people showing up to try out at his first attempt in New York City. “I got a callback. I didn’t get it, but I got real close,” he says. “That gave me courage. I was 25 when I started and I’m happy: I’m glad I wasn’t doing it at 18 like some guys,” he adds, referring to the show’s heavy touring schedule.

      But joining the production, which had been launched by a few U.K. buskers at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was just the beginning of his learning curve. Stomp, after all, is not just a bunch of people banging on buckets. The show famously turns everything from brooms to Zippo lighters to garbage-can lids into elaborately orchestrated and choreographed rhythmic spectacle. “Very few come in a good Stomp-er,” explains Price, who is now the touring show’s rehearsal director. “You have to be trained. You kind of get used to not being used to stuff.”

      Price considers the characterizations the production’s “secret weapon”—the acting aspect that has kept it well ahead of the copycats since it took off in the early 1990s. “What keeps it fresh is each performer has the opportunity to bring their own personality to a character and bring their own energy into the character,” he explains.

      Lois Greenfield

      Adding to that freshness is what he calls the organic nature of Stomp. “We don’t play to a backing track; we make the music that we move to every night,” he says. He says that every two or three years, Stomp adds some intricate new numbers: expect monster-truck-tire tubes and shopping carts to provide some surprise dazzle when the show returns here.

      Those are just some of the reasons why Stomp has hit 50 countries and been seen by 24 million people. Most travelling productions shut down after a couple decades, or at least take a long hiatus, but Stomp has never stopped banging out its beats. It helps that there’s no dialogue, so it’s easily translated for multiple nationalities. But there’s something else about it that transcends culture, Price says.

      “There are classic theatrical aspects, classic music aspects, and it pulls a little bit from comedy—but there’s not too much of any one thing,” he stresses. “And if you isolate any one of those things you start to lose the audience. That’s why it speaks to all those countries and cultures.”

      The production is also insanely energetic—which keeps audiences rapt but can take a toll on someone who’s been with it for almost 15 years. “We all have to stay in shape, but it varies from performer to performer,” says Price, explaining the show travels with 12 guys, but only eight are on-stage at any given time. “I’m a stocky, muscular guy, so I was exposed to some back issues. These days, I practise more yoga and eat different things.

      “The show definitely leaves its mark on your body, so that’s why I’ve chosen to do that,” he adds.

      Clearly, sinks, paint cans, and plumbing fixtures aren’t the only things getting bashed in Stomp—but Price couldn’t be happier. He’s even got a side project, Plastik Musik—a troupe that takes the brightly coloured children’s percussion tubes Boomwhackers into elite classical territory. (Think Flight of the Bumblebee.) In other words, when he’s not busting out beats for Stomp, he’s banging around Boomwhackers. For Stomp, and for Price, the beat goes on.

      Stomp plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre next Friday to Sunday (January 13 to 15).