In an eight-member troupe, Carlos Thomas plays on our team in the hit show Stomp. Conventional instruments are thrown out the window as hubcaps, wooden poles, and garbage cans are some of the common objects used to entertain.
Originally created in 1991 by two blokes in the UK, Luke Cresswell and Steve McNichols premiered the show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Stomp then began to play for international audiences eventually winning two Olivier Awards. In 1994 Stomp opened at the Orpheum Theatre in New York, winning OBIE and Drama Desk Awards that year.
Windy City Times talked to Thomas for a behind the scenes look at the phenomenon that continues to this day.
Windy City Times: Carlos, start off with your background.
Carlos Thomas: I am from Rochester, New York. I'm a dancer and percussionist. I learned all my skills from my gospel church. I played the drums, organ, and directed the choir. For some reason I started banging on things that were not real instruments. I tended to like that better actually. It was more fun!
WCT: How did you join Stomp?
CT: I was friends with a group called The Young Americans. I moved to California in 1995 and joined that group. That is when my professional skills got better. My agent had seen the show and told me it was right up my alley. I had never heard of Stomp. As soon as I saw it I knew it was for me.
I went and auditioned. There were 1,200 people there and they were looking for four.
WCT: Sounds intense. What is an audition for Stomp like?
CT: They show you a portion of the show called Hands and Feet. It is body percussion and they show you a groove, after that you get a solo. That is just day one.
On day two they pull out the props like a pole or a hammer handle. You are asked to use those items, and dance around a bit.
If you make it to day three, they pull out these huge drums and you get a solo with that.
After that you pray you get another phone call!
WCT: What did you do that made you stand out from the rest of the pack?
CT: I was going to get that job. I was very determined. They noticed that. I brought an energy to the audition that they were really impressed with. Even other people I was auditioning against were cheering for me.
WCT: What happened after you got the big call?
CT: I started practicing. Training is no joke. It's for six weeks, nine in the morning until five in the afternoonthat is, when you learn the show and the music with the rhythms. After six weeks they put you in the show.
It takes about a year of doing Stomp before someone can be good at it. It takes that long.
WCT: How much is improv and how much is planned out?
CT: There are specific lines that we play, but there is a lot of room for embellishment. The solos we play are whatever we want. Some of staging, choreography, and where we stand is kind of loose. There is a skeleton that we follow but within that we can do whatever we want.
WCT: How has the show changed over the years?
CT: We have brand new numbers. The beginning is the same, but once the journey starts it is a little different. We switched it up. We have to keep our fans entertained. People come and see us over and over again.
WCT: How long has Stomp been running?
CT: This year is the 22nd year. It started in New York in 1994 and has never stopped. It goes on eight shows a week all year. We have a show in London and a European tour. Sometimes we will have a specialty tour in the summer, where we will go to Australia or China.
WCT: Would you ever want to be in the Blue Man Group?
CT: I don't want to be in no damn Blue Man Group! I saw the show and it was interesting, but it was nothing close to what I expected. I fell in love with Stomp so that is it for me. Stomp was the first show to open that genre up. After Stomp did well in New York then Blue Man Group, Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, and Tap Dogs came along.
WCT: So you will be back in Stomp when you return to New York?
CT: Yes. I am only in Chicago for the first week then I return to New York for more shows. I tried to leave but they keep calling!
I still love it. I get butterflies before each show. The moment I no longer feel excited then that is the moment when I should leave. This is my 17 year. I'm a super vet!
WCT: Is being in Stomp a big workout?
CT: It is very difficult. Sometimes we do two shows in one day. That will take a lot out of you. When you first start the show it will get you in shape, but after a while your body gets used to it. I suggest people should do a workout outside of the show to be strong for it.
WCT: Are there LGBT members in the current cast?
CT: There are, but don't tell Trump that! I just trained 24 new people, so there might be a whole new generation. Right now there is just me, unless some people are not telling me things. I am the only one that has my pride flag out!
Stomp bangs into the Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St., now through Sunday, Jan. 1. Tickets and information can be found at BroadwayInChicago.com .