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Clap Your Hands; Stomp Your Feet

We had tickets to Stomp last Saturday, Eileene’s birthday present. It was fun. It was also almost exactly what I had expected: energetic drumming on whatever struck the…composer’s? performers’? producer’s? fancy. There was a certain sameness between parts of the act. Tapping out rhythms on large matchboxes was a little different, and combining light with sound in a part of the act using cigarette lighters was quite different, but most of the show sounded a lot like the rest of the show. Which, I suspect, was the central point: to demonstrate that it hardly matters what you use to make music—garbage cans, bedframes, broomsticks, human flesh—so long as you make music.

The biggest surprise for me was the size of the theater, no more than a few hundred seats. Despite Eileene’s ongoing efforts to expose me to theater, something in the back of my mind persists in thinking of theater as a grand occasion involving gowns and jewelry and multiple balconies. I expected it of Stomp, too; any show with TV ads must be big, right? I blame PBS. Growing up in Elgin, Illinois, my exposure to theater was almost entirely very local, very amateur, often school-sponsored productions or what I saw on Channel 11. And Channel 11 broadcast big theater, big opera, big concerts, featuring Pavoratti, Bernstein, Gielgud. The one professional play I remember seeing in person was a staging in Chicago of Camelot with Richard Burton, which did nothing to dispel the Channel 11 vision of theater.

Theater certainly can be all that; I know grand theater has survived my childhood because I see it in ads for Disney musicals, or stepping out of taxis on 52nd Street. But far more often, theater is a more intimate art form held wherever it can find the space, flaking plaster or no, especially since Eileene tends to eschew the big productions and follow personal, less mainstream favorites.

I think I like that better. I can accept intellectually that the spectacle itself is part of the attraction to theatergoers, but the idea leaves me cold. Too much conspicuous consumption and class consciousness. I don’t always like small theater, either, loaded as it is with plays full of self-pity and dysfunctional families. But when I do, it’s not a big star belting it out for the cameras; it’s some guy I never heard of saying, essentially, “Hey, wanna see something cool? Look at this.” And sometimes he’s right: it is cool.

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