It's no surprise that Elec Simon loves to play bucket drums like kids and homeless people do in the streets of most big cities. The Stomp cast member can't hide his enthusiasm for the DIY, recycled instrument: "I played buckets in N.Y.C. I love the bucket drums. I learned from Larry Wright, from Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, and [longtime N.Y.C. street performer] William Johnson."
"I still play in the street everywhere I go," he says in a phone interview, taking a break from rehearsal during the company's tour stop in Burlington, Vermont. Stomp comes to PlayhouseSquare for a four-performance run this weekend.
Simon says that, as a kid, he never played in bands, instead spending his extracurricular energy on football and wrestling, which he did for his Akron high school. "But I was always banging on pots and pans and everything. I liked to tap on my mother's entertainment center." By the time he went to the University of Akron, though, he had decided to focus on performing. "I went to school to be on Broadway," he says. "But my career came faster than me graduating."
He first saw Stomp about 15 years ago on HBO. He got his role after an audition five years ago but injured his back in rehearsal and had to take time off, which Simon calls "a tragic time" in his life. Grateful for his recovery and the opportunity to rejoin the cast, he's been back at it three years now.
The performance is physically demanding. "Stomp is worse than any sport because you're constantly moving," he says. "It's hard on your body like hockey and football, but you're drumming at the same time or fighting with poles and trash can lids." A routine using poles is his favorite part of the show. "It's the most tribal, like we're warriors all coming to fight." Created by self-taught percussionist Luke Cresswell and actor Steve McNicholas in Brighton, England, in 1991, Stomp still steadily sells out at the Orpheum Theatre in New York. There are also companies based in Las Vegas and London, as well as a European tour. The show has steadily evolved to keep both performers and audiences interested. Simon says the version coming to Cleveland this week has the most extensive rewrite since the '90s. There are five new routines, including "Donuts," which involves inflated tractor tire inner tubes.
Simon is back in Akron frequently with his own percussion company, Heartbeat Afrika, which he started with his older brother, Olu Manns. A grateful performer, he frequently credits his family for their support and is eager to give back to his home city. Heartbeat Afrika uses percussion for professional development and educational programs in prisons, detention homes and elsewhere.
"We've got to give kids hope," he says. "They see two big black guys with tattoos coming to see them and to do something positive, and that speaks to them. It means something."
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