—Originally published May 9, 2016—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “Hit The Switch,” the spring show by rhythm group Boomshaka. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
“I don’t think you really needed the earplugs, Gwen.”
“Gwen took them out of her ears as the lights in McCormick Auditorium rose again.
“Just to be safe,” she said. “I had heard it was very, very loud.”
“Well, nothing is amplified, so it’s only as loud as they can make it naturally,” Eleanor pointed out.
“Which is still pretty loud,” Dania added.
They walked out of McCormick and into the cold May air.
“Have you ever seen a Boomshaka show before?” Eleanor asked Gwen.
“Not yet,” Gwen said. “I always hear about it, but I’ve never gone until now.”
“Oh, I go every year,” Dania said. “It’s just such a fun, crazy impressive show.”
“It’s a really simple concept,” Gwen began. “Just drummers on everyday objects and little skits in between. It feels like something that they put together pretty quickly.”
“Except that they’ve obviously rehearsed so hard to be so in time with each other,” Eleanor pointed out.
“It’s a lot like STOMP.”
“In a way.”
“What were your favorite moments in the show?” Dania asked. “Mine was the one where they were drumming on the stools, and the sticks and all were lighting up and it looked really crazy.”
“Oh, was that…” Gwen checked the program. “Oh, that’s probably the one called ‘Stool’s Gold,’ right?”
“Yes, that one,” Dania confirmed. “Act II. Anything where they were in the dark and there was some lighting trick was very cool to watch.”
“Like in that one where they all had the masks…” Gwen began.
“The masks!” Eleanor continued. “Yes! ‘2 Spooky!’ That one looked really cool.”
“It looked spooky,” Gwen added, with a smile.
“Yes. It was weirdly kind of tribal in style. I guess drumming and dancing sort of leads to that distinction overall.”
“I felt bad for them during the one with the glowing ball,” Gwen said.
“What, the basketball one?”
“No, the one where they had a little glowing ball that was supposed to be changing colors the whole time, but it kept turning off…”
“Oh, “Ball Is Light,’” Dania said. “Yeah, I don’t know what was up with the ball there. I guess you have to, like, squeeze it or something to turn it on, and that kept changing it.”
“Oh, but the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ one, at the top of Act II…”
“YES.” Dania’s arms flailed wildly as she thought about it again. “That one was incredible.”
“It was such a good combination of choreography and drumming at the same time,” Eleanor said. “I mean, the drumming is usually its own choreography, but they had swordfighting like stuff in there as well. And the lighting was all R+J red/blue comparison stuff.”
“It was just really nice to see some of the girls actually drumming in a piece,” Gwen pointed out.
“Oh yeah,” Dania realized. “I guess that was one of the only ones.”
“Well, there are no girls on the drumline proper in the group,” Gwen added. “The only girls are dancers. And there aren’t male dancers, either. It’s weirdly divided by gender.”
“I mean, the girls probably just have more dance experience. If they can all move in a uniform way…”
“But that’s about why boys aren’t dancers. What about girls not drumming?”
“Girls were drumming,” Dania said. “They were in the ‘Romeo And Juliet’ one, and there were a few drumming as part of that one in Act II where one guy was drumming on tequila bottles. And during the final number there were some switches.”
“Sure,” Gwen conceded, “but the actual drumline, like the people who primarily are drumming, are all male. They even pointed it out in that final transition with the seniors.”
“Right, they did,” Eleanor said, remembering the moment.
“I didn’t think they were going to point it out directly, but there it was.” Gwen mimicked the low, booming voice of the loudspeaker. “‘Now, should we occasionally have the girls drum and the guys dance?’ And then there’s a record scratch and everyone freezes.”
“That was a little weird,” Eleanor said, looking down.
“I’m sure it wasn’t meant as anything mean,” Dania suggested. “They did have some guys dancing and some girls drumming in certain numbers, so at least they’re acknowledging the issue.”
“I don’t know,” Gwen said. “Have they never had a girl try out for drumming, or a guy try out for dancing?”
A silent moment passed as the Girls walked.
“That’s a legitimate question, too,” Gwen continued. “I actually don’t know. Maybe they just haven’t. In which case, where are the female drummers and male dancers?”
“Well, some of the guys in the group did a lot of dancing,” Dania pointed out. “In the first act, “I Hope This Makes You Think Of Your Ex. Pt. II” was entirely dancing, and that was three guys and three girls.”
“Oh, I forgot about that one. I really liked it,” Eleanor sighed. “They’re all so graceful.”
“And there was an all-guy dance,” Dania corrected. “It was just in a transition.”
“Which one?” Gwen asked.
Dania paged through her program. “I think it was ‘Critter Transition’ in Act II. The one with the three guys all in black with the Vishnu-like arms?”
“Oh, that one,” Gwen realized. “Yes, there was…so yeah, there was an all-guy dance! And no all-girl drum!”
“I mean, you’re right about there being no core female drummers or core male dancers,” Eleanor agreed. “I don’t know why, but it’s certainly a factor of the group.”
“And they did better this year at incorporating them together,” Dania said. “In other years, the girls didn’t get to drum at all, and the dancing was only to accentuate the drums. This is a pretty good year for the two halves being equal.”
“Fair, I’ve only seen one year,” Gwen said. “And none of that takes away from the performances being very impressive and all. It’s just my theatre critic mind sticking out.”
“Of course,” said Dania. “No, Boomshaka is one of my favorites on campus, and the show is really, really good this year. I’m glad we could all see it together.”
“When do they do auditions?” Eleanor asked.
“Beginning of the year, probably,” Dania responded. After a moment, her head whipped around to look at Eleanor. “Dude, are you going to audition for Boomshaka?”
“I was thinking about it during the show,” Eleanor admitted. “There’s just a really good energy there.”
“Can you drum?” Gwen asked.
“I can keep rhythm well,” Eleanor said. “I can’t do, like, a drum set or anything, but I can do the kind of street-drumming-like stuff they do in the show. I don’t know. It’s also a big time commitment.”
“It’s only one show a year,” Dania said.
“Yeah, but don’t they have other performances during the year?” Eleanor worried. “I’d love to do it, but I might not have time.”
“It’s college, Eleanor,” Gwen suggested. “This is the time to join the ridiculous drum group when you can.”
“Maybe. I’ll think about it over the summer,” Eleanor said, ending the conversation.
Later that day, when Gwen and Dania were out of the apartment, Eleanor dug through her closet and found her old drumsticks that she had kept from high school. Tentatively, she set in to tapping out little patterns on her desk.
BOOMSHAKA: HIT THE SWITCH runs until May 7 in McCormick Auditorium at Northwestern University (1999 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60201). More information is available at https://www.facebook.com/boomshaka.