Production Lab – Hammerstep

On April 2, 2012
Hammerstep

Introduction

 My production lab project has taken a somewhat dramatic turn. I was originally going to create an online web show for pro audio. Responses to the idea were mixed and there were already some similar projects online. However, a new idea formed when I was contacted by a friend who needed some production help for a gig in London. After helping him out, I decided to take on the development of his project as my production lab assignment.

Hammerstep and Sneaky Steppers

My new project is to create a stage show for the group Hammerstep. The group is a fusion of Irish dance and hip hop that allows an open level of flexible cultural hybridity depending on their location. Previous collaborations have included jazz bands, classical musicians and beat boxers. The core group is a set of Irish dancers and musicians who tour together with Riverdance and similar shows. Set up in Boston in 2009, the Hammerstep project stemmed from the desire to create a show which crosses elements of Irish music and dance with that of hip hop. However, the show itself is never static in its structure; the cast tend to get local bands and performance groups involved and have based visiting acts on contacts they have met in the road or doing street performances.  


In their time away from Riverdance, the group take part in busking-style street performances with other musicians who perform in the same area. This gives the group an ability to freestyle with a random group of performers and has been a foundation of their cultural hybridity ethos. 

The group has another street initiative called Sneaky Steppers. This project is a mix of street performance and viral marketing which sees the group go into public spaces for unannounced performances which are filmed and placed on YouTube. Public stunts are not common place in Irish dancing, so videos like this tend to go viral inside the dance community. This video from last year saw 150 dancers take part in an Irish dance flash-mob in Sydney for St. Patrick’s day. So far it has over 2 million views.


St Patrick’s Day 2012

This year saw Hammerstep return to the UK to take part in the St. Patrick’s Day Festival in London’s Trafalgar Square. Hammerstep wanted to do something more with the weekend and a chance encounter online saw me chatting with dancer Chris Naish and concocting a plan to create a promo video and film the festival performance – all to increase their online presence. 

I offered to lead the project and create a team to help them reach this goal. Utilising students from SAE Oxford, I quickly put together a film and audio crew which headed down to London for two days. Saturday consisted of going around London and performing sneaky ambushes on the unsuspecting public wearing morphsuits in the Irish tri-colour. Day two was much the same but lead up to a performance in Trafalgar Square in front of 18,000 people. 

This was a major opportunity for Hammerstep, and it also gave the students of SAE Oxford a rare chance to have privileged access at a major festival. It gave them great experience in guerilla filming and working with a new type of performance group. 

Several days (and very late nights) were spent at the SAE Oxford campus where editing was done by students Haakam Singh and Aiden Newby. Although the final video was four minutes long, two days of footage had to be gone through to find the best parts for the promo video. Still photos from student Joel Rundle and SAE staffer Marc Rose helped to keep the social marketing up over the days we were editing. Student Candice Offer provided the overlay graphic (after one day of After Effects training!!!) and after several days with little sleep, the video was finished. The students at SAE did a great job!!


Hammerstep and Production Lab

Hammerstep is now looking to create a flexible formula which will allow them to have a touring production that incorporates both a slick production and the ability to maintain a dynamic show that can easily be customised depending on external acts. They are also seeking cultural funding to design new costumes and set and a budget to book and promote a series of performances in the UK.

For my production lab project, I intend to create a formalised structure for the business side of Hammerstep and, with the group, l plan marketing and funding strategies, as well as constructing a performance at at theatre in the Uk to launch the new Hammerstep show.

Summary

Although Hammerstep is already an ongoing project for the dancers and musicians involved, my position will be to enable them to have a production base and help them to develop their ideas further. With their commitments with Riverdance, they are constantly travelling, but with a UK base, the cast will be able to focus on performance, choreography and creativity. 

The group has a growing online fanbase and has created a lot of interest in the Irish cultural communities in the UK. However, their passion for cultural hybridity is what will set the apart from other similar productions. Finding new ways to combine Irish and hip hop has been their motivating factor, but the potential for new crossovers with other similar genres is an exciting possibility.

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