For 11 years the East Village Orpheum Theatre has hosted a show that has a primary focus on beating garbage cans, sweeping floors, and flicking lighters. It sounds like audio footage of a New York high school, but it’s STOMP, the internationally acclaimed percussive performance that’s become the city’s fourth longest running off-Broadway show. It’s shown the world that the usual urban racket can actually be pleasing to the ear, if it’s arranged in a flowing cadence. The show is essentially a two-hour version of the guys playing the plastic buckets in the subway, except with a few more resources. The performers take standard items like rubber hoses and matchbook covers, turn them into non-standard percussion instruments, and create rhythms.
The idea is straight from the streets of Brighton, England where Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, creators and directors of the show, first began their foray into the old English tradition of "busking." Busking, from various linguistic roots meaning to seek or to prowl, dates back to Medieval village fairs. Buskers constructed impromptu street stages, and people stood and watched their routine. Not only does STOMP have its roots in the streets, but it has a general philosophy that aims for cultural unification, too. Each performer not only needs to be comfortable with the rudiments of thumping and smacking road signs, but also develops their own character within the STOMP world, "where rhythm is the only language."
Do no words and no melody make STOMP a dull show? On the contrary, theatre and rhythm are two elements that nearly anyone can relate to, regardless of language or musical preference. No politics, no hidden meanings, no traditional instruments other than drumsticks. The result is a pulsating sensation that’s thrilled New Yorkers and audiences around the world — it’s even entertained Mr. Rogers and the Muppets.