Making some noise: 6 questions for one of the stars of "Stomp"
For many of us, bashing around pots and pans was our first introduction to the concept of music. Turning chaotic clinks and clanks into something resembling a beat, making inanimate objects speak a rhythm (even if it's one that makes sense to you and you only), is a primal and universal human delight – one that the theater show "Stomp" has been thriving off of for over a quarter of a century.
Current touring cast member John Angeles has been a part of the sensation of "Stomp" since 2007, turning trash cans, oil drums and other random objects into his musical playground. He and the rest of the cast will bring their unconventional orchestra to the Milwaukee Theatre on Thursday night. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee chatted with Angeles to find out more about the show, its appeal and how exactly one trains to play random junk (spoiler: painfully).
OnMilwaukee: What's it like working with such unique percussive instruments?
John Angeles: In the beginning, it was quite painful learning. When I was training, I'm used to playing with drumsticks and then all of a sudden they're putting hammer handles in your hands and putting in brooms and trash can lids, and you're also playing on surfaces of metal, plastic and wood. Normally, I'm used to playing on drum sets and drum rims where they have a nice rebound to them. So I'm just killing my wrists and killing my elbows trying to learn what we call instruments. Once I was able to acquire the strength to move these objects the way I would move two drum sticks, it became easier, but it took a while for me to gain the strength to do that.
What was the most painful instrument to work with and figure out?
There's a piece in the show called "Walkers" where we actually have our feet in ski boots, and we're attached to 50-gallon oil drums. We walk out on stage with them, and we're playing rhythms with them, but we're also lifting them up as high as we can. And honestly, I wasn't strong enough when I first started out. I wasn't strong enough to lift them. So that took a lot; that definitely hurt. (laughs)
The show requires a lot. It's really high impact. You're jumping around a lot. You swinging around fences. You're running up and down ladders. It's quite a test. So it took a while just to be physically be able to do the show without wanting to pass out at the end of it. But after eight and a half years, I've acclimated quite a bit.
What was the initial draw of "Stomp" for you?
I first saw the show when I was about 12 years old, and the very first number is "Brooms." And at the end, there's this drummer playing a broom solo with two brooms, and I remember when I was a little kid and I saw that, I just went, "Oh my gosh, I want to do that. I want to be that guy."
Later on in the show, there's a piece called "Detention" where it's the same guy playing all over the place, and I thought, "I've got to be a part of this show." I was in love with it.
You're coming up on a decade now with the show. How have you seen the show evolve over your almost-decade of time?
It's changed a lot. The creators – Luke (Cresswell) and Steve (McNicholas) – are really good about coming in and not only just creating new pieces for us to play, but also hiring new people and maybe giving people different roles to do in the show. It's what keeps it exciting for us. But even the numbers we do have … like "Brooms" has always been a part of the show, but they come in and change the music, so it's more advanced and it's more entertaining – for us and probably for the audience as well. As new people come in through training and auditions, there are new strengths that we can adapt the show to.
So it's changed a lot – a lot of new numbers since I've started and a lot of new music and a lot of new cast members. And I'm also doing different roles as well, so it's fun.
You do switch roles a lot. What's that like working in such a fluid process where you're moving from character to character?
We have to rehearse a lot because there's a lot of dangerous parts of the show where we're doing a type of combat with either poles or lids, or we also throw paint cans and basketballs. So we have to rehearse a lot. There's a saying in rehearsals somebody's "swinging" it, when you're doing a role but you're thinking about another role and you mess up because you're thinking about your other music. It can be difficult and trying.
This tour that we're doing right now, I'm mainly doing just one role, which is good to do every now and then to just focus on one role. But it's definitely challenging switching around because there's a lot of dangerous parts to the show if you don't have your thinking cap on …
What do you think it is about "Stomp" that people are still drawn to over all these years?
It speaks to all ages. There's a lot of comedy to the show, which people don't generally expect when they come to see the show if they haven't seen it. It's a lot of fun, and the music is infectious. It's relatable; whatever music you listen to in life on the radio or on your iPod, there's something in the show that you can relate to music-wise. It works all around the world because there is no language barrier.
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