3 min

Language of rhythm

Shola Cole Stomps into Ottawa

Credit: Capital Xtra files

Stomp is not so much musical theatre as a rhythmic revelation, full of black-booted soul and sweat. Its performers hold nothing back on the stage, saying every night they give 110 percent to their audiences – and then give a little bit more.

And for performer and musician Shola Cole, the noise, percussion and spectacle also allows her to explore her own musicality and identity night after night.

With an intense passion for music and a desire to promote women in the arts, Cole, a lesbian, says performing as her character, Cornish, in Stomp provides her with a unique opportunity.

“The premise behind each of the [eight] roles is that you are yourself, but you are radiating an extension of yourself as your character, so, essentially you are playing yourself,” Cole explains. “But believe it or not it is a very hard thing to do, because as soon as you get on stage the first thing you want to do is start performing.”

With a North American tour that has been running since 1995, Stomp is one of the most financially successful off-Broadway shows in modern theatre history.

That North American tour returns to Ottawa later this month for a series of shows at the National Arts Centre from Nov 16-21.

Cole, 28, says she first became interested in the legendary show 10 years ago, after experiencing it for the first time while a student at the University Of Connecticut.

“I told myself the next time I see the show, I’m going to be in it,” she says.

When she saw an online notice announcing Stomp’s Boston company was holding auditions early last year, Cole jumped at the chance to earn herself a spot as a cast member.

“My girlfriend, Jesse, drove me to the audition,” says Cole. “And, by the time she parked the car, I had got a call back for the next round of auditions.”

Cole, who moved to Connecticut from England with her family when she was 11 years old, is a classically-trained pianist and has studied the trombone since the age of 15.

In addition to her work with Stomp, Cole has also performed with several female a cappella vocal ensembles, two of which she co-founded, since joining her first group in college.

“I saw that as another way to blend my passion for women’s studies and music,” she says.

After Stomp’s Boston company folded in November last year, Cole decided to take a part in the North American touring company this spring.

“I did some substitute work with the tour and then I got the full-time gig in April,” she says.

Cole says that Stomp has been “a great platform” for improving and exploring herself both as a live performer and musician.

“I feel like I am starting to contribute more musically and be more aware of what I can do musically, as well as character-wise, for the cast,” she says.

Cole adds that the large amount of improvisation within the show’s story outline has allowed her to explore her own sexuality, while having fun with the androgynous nature of her character.

“On stage, I really haven’t set myself up as this quote, unquote ‘dyke,'” she explains. “[But] my body language, I would say, is very quirky and androgynous. And so I am very satisfied with that whole concept of gender anonymity.”

Amid the pounding feet and the clanging trash can lids, Cole says the one thing each audience member can take away from every performance is the universal language of rhythm, which goes beyond – and connects more organically – than just melody or voice.

She adds that nowhere is this felt more strongly then at the end of the show, where the cast and the audience engage in the ancient rhythmic art of “call and response.”

“There is often this strange enlightened bond, sometimes without even being able to speak each other’s languages,” she says, “which gives you a new approach to what rhythm actually means.”


Tue, Nov 16–Sun, Nov 21.

Various show times; check

National Arts Centre (53 Elgin St).

Tickets: $37 and up. Available at NAC box office (10am–9pm; Mon-Sat) and Ticketmaster (755-1111;

Show info: