If it crashes, the bang goes out of our act

My Technology; Steve McNicholas, director of Stomp, tells how his troupe's low-tech dance performances depend on an Apple PowerBook
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The Independent Culture
WHEN I stroll in with a PowerBook, people are always a little bit surprised it can convey our work. After all, in some respects, our show is anti-technology - archaic objects are used as instruments and the show uses none. But behind the scenes is the PowerBook, planning, organising and making Stomp very multimedia.

We started out as a bit of a cottage industry. Initially, we worked with touring companies, so wherever we were geographically, I needed to run our business. A mobile office was the only feasible arrangement. Plus, at the beginning, I did everything: the accounts, as well as the publicity, photography and directing the show. This could all be done from one source - the PowerBook.

Over the years, the company has grown: we have five companies around the world and do a lot of filming. So although I don't do accounts or administration and don't need a mobile office as such, I use the PowerBook as a mobile studio. I keep in touch with all the companies and aspects of the show through e-mail contact with performers and company managers.

The creative potential of the PowerBook is very important. For instance, when we are shooting films or commercials, storyboard work is done on the PowerBook. I am trying out a program at the moment called StoryBoard Artist, but previously I have made a storyboard collage myself. That is the only time I have used a program that works a specific purpose.

I haven't yet found a program to do everything I want. In the past I have yoked programs together, perhaps Photoshop and Videoshop, anything to get where I want.

One classic use is in shooting a commercial. I go on location with a Nikon F900 digital camera. Every conceivable angle is then downloaded on the computer. But we might also do some drawings, either drawing direct on to the computer or scanning in images. Alternatively, if we need to build something around the location, I could construct a 3-D view on the computer. So storyboards are often a collage of digital photography and art pad work.

The PowerBook is basically our visual tool. But it also helps with the music. Everything we do is worked to a rhythm, so we might record a basic rhythm on to the PowerBook and then overlay images. It cuts down on time. When deciding possible ways to shoot, we can quickly digitise the shots, do some edits and check how the cuts work and the flow of movement. And we can play it back, for instance, when doing a presentation.

I have always trained myself how to use the technology. I don't go into shops - you tend not to get a great deal of help - so information tends to come from reading a magazine, or the Internet is particularly helpful when searching for something specific. My enthusiasm for computer technology is down to using a music sequencer, it opened my eyes to the computer as a useful tool with creative possibilities.

A lot of people have a computer block. When we walk in with the PowerBook, clients are always amazed at what we do. They say they didn't know what could be done, which really surprises me. I am frustrated by the attitude that computers are only for smart or clever people when they are just tools to be used. I am not a computer technician or interested in bytes, bits and programming, but it helps me write or create. Stomp couldn't exist without this technology. What we do now would be a nightmare without the PowerBook.

Interview by

Jennifer Rodger

Stomp embark on their first-ever UK tour on 26 January at Chichester Festival Theatre (01243 781 312). For more details visit www.stomp.co.uk