Matchboxes, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters and more fill the stage with energizing beats at STOMP, the inventive and invigorating stage show that's dance, music and theatrical performance blended together in one electrifying rhythm.
Here’s the story behind the story.
Davenport’s Adler Theatre hosts about 80 shows and concerts each year, and Tuesday night’s “Stomp” was one of them. Prepping for the show’s arrival began weeks ago through the Adler’s tech director, Evan Esser.
"Stomp" brings together many performance types, which means unique sets and props. And that's all in a day's work for Esser.
“Part of my job is going over the details of items they’ll bring and what will fit, where, because every stage space is a bit different,” he said. “So when they walk in, they know what they’re dealing with.”
Unloading the industrial-looking set pieces, lights, sound equipment and props began at 9 a.m. The show carries only six crew members, which is why 30 local union stage hands were ready Tuesday morning to haul and help under the direction of the "Stomp" crew.
There are 12 cast members; eight perform and the four others rotate in and out to give someone a day off or relief from an injury. Included in the entire group of 21 is a physical therapist “because of how physical and intense the show is,” Kevin Beebee said.
Beebee is the company manager, with a background in theater business, who is responsible for “everything logistical.” He even brings his own computers and photocopiers.
The show travels for eight months, and then takes four months off before beginning again.
“Sometimes it feels like the movie, 'Groundhog Day,' as we do the same, tiresome load-in, load-out for days on end," he said. "But we get a good break at the end of the run to keep us fresh because it’s a demanding show.”
Before the run is over they will have performed in 40 cities, most of which are one-night stands, although they’ll do a week here or there. Over Thanksgiving and Christmas, they did seven weeks in Chicago. The show originally was created about 25 years ago when two London street musicians were told they were so good and inventive that they had the makings of a real “show.”
Cast and crew arrived late Sunday by plane from Melbourne, Florida, with Davenport the beginning of a Midwestern swing. They had Monday off and discovered the pleasures of Quad-Cities River Bandits baseball and some local breweries.
Two semitractor-trailers with equipment followed them; many times, they’ll then rent buses that have beds, lounges, fridges and microwaves.
The “set” isn’t your normal one. It’s made up of a lot of metal trusses and platforms with household items that later become “drums.”
Six-foot-high tractor-wheel inner tubes also are part of the set. For the load-in, they’re immediately placed in the audience to ensure they aren’t punctured because they take forever to re-inflate. The tubes the audience saw Tuesday night, with the needed rigging on them, cost “close to a thousand dollars” for each one.
The first thing that has to be done is getting the lights up. They use 32 Adler lights but bring 200 of their own. They attach the lights to rails, which are hoisted above the stage. The floor is first marked with tape as to which spots have to be lit by which lights; these have to be set before the platform pieces are secured to the stage, covering those spots.
Cassie Devine is a whirling dervish as the lighting director. She’s up on a 20-foot lift, aiming her lights at those spots. Then she goes to the back of the theater to set up her computers and light board. She gets a lot of help from the local workers and is constantly repeating, “please” and “thank you.”
“The most challenging part of the job is getting the lights focused on the right stage spot and the actual run of the show because each performer brings a different dynamic,” she said.
Prop master Beth Grunenwald has so many props — there are seven different kinds of drumsticks alone — she’s never really counted. “Stomp” is purely a percussion show, and trash cans are part of it. But they have to “sound” just right, so if something goes wrong with one of them, they have to be shipped from the show’s base in New York City to get just the right can.
Producers of the show say that Rich Curtis may be the most critical: He’s the sound guy.
First, he has to secure cable bundles to the right places on the trusses, before they’re elevated. Later, he’ll attach microphones to those cables and trusses.
“The show is unique, a merge between a Broadway show and a concert,” he said.
The challenge with 21 condenser microphones is they have to be stable so there isn’t any feedback. The sound, he said, has to be even regardless of where the performers are, and when something goes bad during performance (there’s no intermission), he has to compensate in other ways.
The idea is to have the stage ready by 2 p.m., if all goes well. Some of the crew might have a break to catch up on life, Beebee will then do paperwork and production coordination until getting a dinner before the 7:30 p.m. curtain. The show runs for an hour and 40 minutes.
By 9:30 p.m. the show is over, and the audience will have cleared out. It took five hours to load-in all the equipment, but they can tear it down (“strike” the set) in two hours.
Once the two semis are loaded, the crew can join the cast in one of two sleeper buses. That’s about a 15-hour day, which is pretty simple compared with those days with matinees. These worker-bees will then sleep on their way to the next stop, which luckily for them is only 222 miles to Mason City, Iowa, where they’ll load-in, stomp and load-out again tonight.
This nomad lifestyle is unique, and the crew admits it’s not for everyone.
“All road shows are like that, sacrificial,” Beebee admitted, thinking of all the family occasions he has missed. “But those of us who love it get a bit better money than shows which run in one city, plus I get paid to see the country.”