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Beat It 

by Michael Bowen


Pookiesnackenburger. That's the name of a street comedy group that performed at the Edinburgh Festival in the early '80s. Eventually it gave birth to the we'll-wail-on-anything extravaganza known as STOMP (running next Friday and Saturday at the Opera House, June 11-12).


There's a reason that STOMP is written in ALL CAPITALS: In 90 minutes of pure percussion, it concentrates on BEATING THE BEJABBERS out of inanimate objects. So one can understand the presence in such a show of brooms, trash cans, steel poles, drumsticks, hammers, hubcaps and 50-gal. oil drums. But sink plugs? Zippo lighters? Paint scrapers? And kilos and kilos of sand?


Lorraine Le-Blanc is a veteran STOMP performer. Speaking by telephone from Leicester, England, she admits, "Well, the plugs, all they do is release water from a sink. With the paint scrapers and wallpaper scrapers, if you find different sizes, and you hit the metal with another piece of metal, you'll find that each one has a different kind of tone, so you can actually make a little melody.


"When we do a routine called 'Hands and Feet,' which is purely body percussion," she says, "we put a bit of sand on the floor. Then it gives us another texture, and we've got a new sound."


The routines in STOMP have self-explanatory names - 'Brooms,' 'Hands and Feet,' 'Bins' and 'Poles' - though the most complex numbers require the eight onstage performers to beat a drum, dance and participate in bell ringing all at the same time.


In "Poles," says Le-Blanc, "We're playing the wooden pole with the right hand and the hammer handle with the left, and the pole on the floor is hitting another piece of wood. And we do a lot of combat stuff, 'cause we work in pairs. That's the routine you can get hurt in."


Clearly, audiences relate to the idea of banging on stuff. Co-founder Luke Cresswell says that audience members frequently come up after the show (running for 13 years now) "and say, 'I bang on my kitchen table all the time.'"


Apparently, there's an urge, buried deep in our collective memory, to imagine trash can lids everywhere painted with the faces of authority figures, just so we can pound the hell out of them.


The show's promotional materials proclaim, "No narrative, no dialogue, no melody, no 'deeper meaning.'" But some folks just won't let those deeper meanings go.


For which STOMP's other co-founder, Steve McNicholas, has an answer ready: "If there is a message (which everyone seems to expect from theatre)," he says, "it is that you can make something out of nothing. Using junk, household and industrial objects, by its very nature, challenges the issue of waste and challenges the notion of culture as being highbrow or detached (i.e., you don't have to buy a cello or a drum kit to make music)."


Coordinating all that junk-tossing requires considerable preparation. Asked about the most complicated section, Le-Blanc points to the finale: "The last section is called 'Dustbins'" -- trash cans, to those Stateside - "lots of African stuff in there, rock 'n' roll, we do hand drums, which have the African influence there - it's a big ol' massive piece, with lots of lid work that looks quite impressive."


Le-Blanc has been performing in STOMP and directing rehearsals for more than five years. So how does the group keep the intensity going night after night? Here's Le-Blanc on the show's warm-up routine: "The 'Brooms' routine is the first routine of the show and we'll rehearse the groove - you know, the music of the piece -- to make sure we're all kind of together on that. And then there are all sorts of tricky bits that happen in there, like we do a toss and certain things that take a bit of concentration.


"We'll do 'Poles,' just in case anyone is switching roles, just to make sure no one gets hit because they've gone to the wrong place.


"And then, 20 minutes before the show goes up, we all get together and run through a routine with the Zippo lighters. We'll clap through some of our hand lines that we do in 'Hands and Feet' and we'll clap through some of the trickier bits in 'Poles' -- and then right at the end we do a big scream, just to get our energy together."


All that yelling and twirling and pounding - the essence of stress reduction. Says Le-Blanc, "I get to bang out my frustrations on a big blue drum with hammer handles, which is most marvelous. I find it quite relaxing, really."


In her five years with the show, however, Le-Blanc says she has never once inquired what Cresswell and McNicholas meant by calling themselves "Pookiesnackenburger." Five years of VIOLENT COLLISIONS, have made the woman overlook the REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF.





Publication date: 06/03/04

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