Who knew an oil drum could evoke the same feeling in your chest you get when the bass drum kicks in at a rock show. Or contractor brooms, Zippo lighters, shopping carts and even what you may be holding in your hands right now, a newspaper.
That’s the beauty of STOMP, the international percussion sensation that first premiered in London in 1991 and has since toured around the world, including a 20+ year run in New York City.
Up until last weekend, it had never been performed on Long Island.
Playing to three sold-out audiences in the 1,130 seat Patchogue Theatre, STOMP’s troupe of eight performers blew audiences away with electrifying beats, moments of humor and the one thing that unites us all: rhythm. Friday night’s performers; Jonathon Elkins, Cary Lamb Jr., Kris Lee, Artis Olds, Krystal Renée, Cade Slattery and Steve Weiss, lead by Simeon Weedall, put on an unforgettable show that let their cool personalities shine throughout the wordless, nearly two-hour performance.
Among the audience members that night was John Sawicki, a Long Island native and 20-year STOMP veteran. It was a sweet moment for Sawicki, who himself trained some of the performers and was overjoyed to see the production finally make its Long Island debut.
Ahead of Friday’s opening, where Sawicki, with a blonde mohawk and tattoo sleeve, greeted audiences and led a Q+A session, the Advance was fortunate enough to chat with him about the show’s legacy.
LIA: Tell me about your background as a percussionist.
Sawicki: My dad was a drummer, and my parents supported me playing drums throughout my entire life. As a kid, I was tapping on everything–I got in trouble in school for tapping on the desk.
How did you get involved with STOMP?
My sister got me tickets to see the show for Christmas one year, and I freaked out when I saw it. I knew this was something I wanted to do. I waited at stage door after the show and gave the performers my business card. Three months later, I found myself on an audition line with thousands of people, and they chose eight of us.
What did it feel like to get cast?
I felt out of place on the audition line. I was standing there smoking a cigarette and carrying my drum sticks. Everyone else had head shots and was stretching, [laughs.] They were just looking for regular people who happen to be talented.
Part of the appeal is that traditional instruments aren’t used. How is the music made?
We use everything from garbage cans and brooms to our bodies and paint cans. There’s also car rims, wooden poles, kitchen sinks–anything you can think of.
There’s a scene where we strap ski boots onto 55-gallon oil drums which is a lot of fun. The best part is that everything you see used on stage is real. It can inspire people to just pick up an instrument and start playing again, and the idea is that you don’t have to go out and spend $5,000 on a pristine new instrument. You can find stuff and make stuff sound really cool just by walking around your house.
What makes STOMP so magical?
I think it has been so successful because anyone can go to the show and relate to someone on stage. Me, I have a bit of an attitude–tattoos and a mohawk. We have Asian performers, African-American performers. There’s no cultural wall and no language barrier. It’s all about rhythm and you can learn a lot about life, friends and people. It’s not just music.
STOMP to me is very punk rock. We’re regular people who wear baggy clothes and we all share this passion and drive with music and rhythm and like to share it with people.
You’ve shared those rhythms with audiences worldwide. How do they react?
The audience is the ninth member of the show. You can dance in your seat, it feels more like a concert than a show.
Do you have a specific favorite moment in the show?
One part I played a lot was “Sarg,” the first guy on stage and the last one offstage. He gets to deal with the audience participation, where I would present a rhythm to the audience and they copy it back to me. When the audience ‘gets’ it after the first or second time, it’s a great feeling. You know that everybody is on your page.
Aside from having musical talent, it’s a very physically demanding show. Was that challenging?
It’s like being a pro-athlete. A lot of people don’t realize that until they see the show. Sometimes it feels like there’s 16 or 18 people on stage even though there’s only 8 of us because there’s so much going on.
It’s chaotic, but it sends a message of unity. You’re seeing all different ethnicities and backgrounds sharing a beat and hopefully people get that everybody can spread the love and get along. There’s no verbal message, it’s all through rhythm. And everybody can relate to that because we all have rhythm–in our heartbeats.
You’re a Long Island native. How does it feel to see the show finally debut here? What took so long?
I grew up in Ronkonkoma–I’m actually calling from my childhood home. I moved back about three years ago after living in L.A. for a while and touring for such a long time. I don’t know why we never made it out here, but it’s great. Arts and theater bring happiness to people and allows them to escape reality for an hour and a half. That’s important.
PHOTO by Steve McNicholas