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The right rhythm: Percussionist Jeremy Price leads the way in ‘Stomp’

“Stomp” looks to engage with the audience during the program. (Steve McNicholas / Steve McNicholas)
“Stomp” looks to engage with the audience during the program. (Steve McNicholas / Steve McNicholas)

In school, Jeremy Price was that kid, the one who was never not tapping out rhythms on his desk.

Price’s infatuation with percussion began with a movie featuring a brief clip of a drummer, filmed from behind.

Though he didn’t yet know how to drum, something in Price told him that he could do exactly what he’d seen that drummer do.

It wasn’t until a few years later that Price got his first drum kit. And it was a few years after that, he said, that he really began to master the craft.

Though it may have annoyed classmates and teachers at the time, all that desktop drumming paid off, as Price has been a performer in “Stomp” on and off since 2003.

“Stomp,” the percussion-heavy theatrical experience, comes to the First Interstate Center for the Arts on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Stomp” wasn’t Price’s first foray into creating music with atypical instruments though.

In 2002, the seed that would eventually grow into Plastic Musik was planted after Price, then teaching drum lessons at a music store, stumbled across a box of Boomwhackers, colorful plastic tubes of varying length that each produce a different tone when struck on a surface.

Price handed them out to a few drummer friends and began to orchestrate the group, eventually trying out a piece by Mozart.

“We started doing some Mozart and I was like ‘Wow, I’m not prepared for this,’ ” he said during a phone interview before a recent “Stomp” performance in Texas. “I dug into the music and I started becoming better at it, and it was challenging. That’s why I did it.”

The Plastic Musik repertoire includes Boomwhacker performances of everything from Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

In 2003, a year after forming Plastic Musik, Price landed a role in “Stomp,” and he’s balanced his work in both groups ever since.

Last year, a Plastic Musik tour of Air Force bases brought Price and the group to Fairchild Air Force Base.

“My cousin is a master sergeant at Fairchild. He did not come to the show, by the way. Put that in there,” Price said with a laugh.

After getting cast in “Stomp,” Price and the other new cast members learned how to use the show’s irregular instruments, things like trash cans, brooms and lighters.

He picked up on most instruments fairly quickly, though he enjoyed the challenge of learning to use his body as an instrument.

A former breakdancer, Price made the transition to music upon realizing he would rather play music and encourage others to dance.

But with “Stomp,” he could do both.

“I could make the music I danced to and I could dance to the music that I made,” he said.

It’s these moments of using their bodies as instruments, movements like slapping their knee or clapping their hands or stomping their feet, that allow the audience to participate in the show.

“You can take that anywhere,” Price said. “Your body might be the most unconventional instrument we use in the show, but it could also be the most expressive.”

During his tenure with “Stomp,” Price has portrayed four characters. He currently takes the stage as Sarge.

Sarge is the leader of the cast and the one who spends time communicating with the audience, who Price said becomes like the fifth Beatle by the end of the show.

“That was a theatrical craft that I was not prepared for, and I may have learned more from that than from any other part of the show…,” he said about learning to engage audiences. “Sarge is a very physical role and a very intellectual role and you have a lot of responsibility.”

One of those responsibilities, as previously mentioned, is getting the audience involved. That job is the same no matter who portrays Sarge, but the way they interact with the audience differs depending on who is leading the team.

It’s that variety that has kept Price with “Stomp” for 16 years.

“The great thing about the show and the reason why, I think, I’m still here is you have your own interpretation of that character,” he said. “There are eight characters, and you get cast in the one that fits you best and as you grow, you might learn another role or two. And you will have a personal interpretation of that character that’s unlike anyone else’s.”

That variety, Price said, is also partly the reason “Stomp” has been going strong for nearly 30 years.

He also believes the show has been so well-received in dozens of countries because there is little cultural divide when it comes to humor and rhythm.

“British folks have dry humor and we have a different humor here, but everyone loves to laugh and everyone has a heartbeat and that is ‘Stomp’,” he said.

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