Popular Dance Troupe Stomps into Erie
Matt Flowers interviews performer Mike Hall, who talks music, dance, and breaking four brooms a night.
The man has two sets of holes in each ear; one sports a set of half-inch gauges, the other lets the music sink in and marinate. But Mike Hall didn't need long to realize his affinity for music. By age 11 he was thumping away in his school's band, then moved on to become a member of Warren Central High School's scholastic World Concert Percussion Ensemble, playing at North Coast Academy until aging out, when finally he STOMPed down on something special.
He's part of the dance troupe STOMP, which combines an industrial environment with the most primitive of sounds, using ordinary objects to make beats so rich and so primal, you'll feel your pulse keeping time.
Matthew Flowers: How many shows are you doing on this current tour?
Mike Hall: Oh jeez – I have no idea [laughs]. We do about seven to eight shows a week. The least amount of shows we do is six.
MF: After you're done with a performance, do you just tap on everything? Do you sweep your kitchen floor to a beat?
MH: Everything is always in rhythm. Some of my friends make fun of me about it… I'm always kind of making noise in some way, shape, or form. It gets annoying after a while, but, I don't know, it's just who I am.
MF: Are all the beats completely composed or is there some room for improvisation?
MH: There is room for improvisation. It's like, 70 percent written, 30 percent the performer's freedom… One of our numbers is called "Hands and Feet;" you know for a fact [as a performer] you'll get to do a four-bar solo where no one else is playing – just you.
MF: How is it having multiple people responsible for the same instrument?
MH: We're all playing the same music but we're just striving to play it as clean as possible. By clean, I mean as together as possible, and not have it sound like a whole bunch of fuzz.
MF: Do you have a click track or an in-ear monitor you use during performances?
MH: We have no click track. That's what's pretty cool about the show. You'll notice the different parts of the numbers speeding up and slowing down. The tempo depicts what kind of mood that we're trying to set. It also depends who Sarge is that night. Sarge is the lead role in the show, and he's the guy that sets all the tempos for each number.
MF: So do you take turns being Sarge?
MH: Oh no – there's only two guys out here that can be Sarge full-time.
MF: Do most people in STOMP have a musical background?
MH: No, that's what makes it really cool. I'm the only guy out here that comes from a strict, marching background. Everyone else is a dancer, actor, or just normal people that auditioned for the show and made it. If you have rhythm, you can kinda pick it up. That's what the whole mentality is: You can find anyone off the street and teach them the show.
MF: I notice the audience is laughing a lot in the videos online. How do you portray humor without saying a word?
MH: A lot has to do with physical actions [like] shrugging shoulders, giving people attention, just turning your head and looking at them. We also use rhythm to communicate.
MF: Is there a story told in the music of STOMP or is it more of an emotion you're striving for?
MH: I see it as a story. But I think that's what's cool about it. Since there aren't any words, anybody watching the show can make up their own story to go along with what they're seeing. I think that's how everyone in the cast treats it too.
MF: Have the "instruments" you play been modified?
MH: We get our brooms sent to us from England… and you can't find our trashcans 'cause those are from England… and the shopping carts we use [have] wheels [that] spin independently so you can spin on them and do neat tricks… [Other than that] it's all from junk yards or ordered from Lowe's.
MF: Do any of those "instruments" break mid-set?
MH: Totally. We go through probably four brooms a night just during the opening number, "Brooms." [Laughs].
MF: What do you do then?
MH: Hold your hand out and one of our stagehands will throw a broom out to you [Laughs]… They're really good at it. Literally, no matter where you put your hand, you're gonna have a broom there in about 2 seconds [Laughs].
MF: Which "instrument" is the hardest to play?
MH: We have a number called "Walkers" where we have to lift 55-gallon oil drums on our feet.
MF: One more questions for you. Was it awkward going from just playing an instrument to dancing too?
MH: Totally – it was really weird… I'd only been in marching band. We never really did any dance moves, it would always be like: left, right, left, right… It was never anything different than that. So, when I came to STOMP it kind of turned my entire world upside down.
Matthew Flowers can be contacted at mFlowers@eriereader.com or you can follow him on Twitter @MFlowersER