Photo courtesy of WGI Sport of the Arts
Falling. Rolling. Leaping. Though not required maneuvers in an indoor percussion or winter guard program, these movements do make a WGI show stand out. Get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most amazing stunts from the past 20 years.
For more than 30 years, WGI Sport of the Arts has inspired shows that have stunned audiences with artistry, skill and, of course, amazing stunts. We asked our readers what they thought were the most memorable WGI stunts of all time.
Which acrobatic maneuver made you hold your breath wondering if the performer would land it? Which equipment allowed the human body to accomplish something spectacular? Or was there a show where you witnessed something that you had never seen or heard before and had you talking about it years later? Which shows made a lasting impact on the entire WGI movement?
We received more than 30 different show submissions from as far back as 1994 and as recently as 2013. After tallying the votes, we chose the top three from both the guard and percussion categories. Here are the selections.
2011 Blue Knights
Imagine falling 10 feet—backward. In 2011, the Blue Knights Percussion Ensemble from Denver, Colo., produced a show entitled “Physical Graffiti” featuring a number of “parkour-esque” stunts performed around and over various scaffolding and ramps constructed for the show.
The stunts included a 10-foot trust fall, suspension by members along the side of the scaffolding, jumps by a performer over other drumline members and a run across multiple bass drums with no help or harness—just to name a few.
Established in 1993, the Blue Knights—currently directed by Amanda Montemayor—won first place at the WGI Championships in 1994, 1999, 2000 and 2003 but placed sixth in the Independent World Class in 2011.
Despite not achieving a medal, “Physical Graffiti” received critical acclaim because of the group’s innovative use of stunts. One of the readers that nominated “Physical Graffiti” said, “To date, none of these stunts were topped at that level.”
Another agreed with this sentiment, saying there were “plenty of lesser versions, but nothing to come close.”
2013 Father Ryan
Don’t Try This At Home
One of the most recent nominees on our list, the 2013 members of the Father Ryan High School indoor drumline from Nashville, Tenn., produced a show entitled “Don’t Try This At Home.”
The show involves just what its name connotes— stunts and moves that would be considered dangerous and outlandish in any other setting. One of the most intense stunts in the show came toward the end when some of the drummers strapped themselves to gigantic wheels, which then spun while the drummers continued to play.
“The biggest challenge was to make it safe but to look dangerous,” says percussion instructor Derek Schletzer. “Some of the stuff was inherently dangerous.”
While “scary” and “dangerous” are a few of the words used to describe the show, the group received much acclaim for its very progressive ideas. When asked about the inspiration for the show, Schletzer expresses that there was no individual inspiration but a series of ideas. “There were a lot of ideas we didn’t use because of lack of time or some of them being just too dangerous,” he says.
The first three minutes of the show were originally based around a zip line, and there was to be one student sliding down the line. In rehearsals, however, the force was too much for the line, which kept collapsing. “It was very frustrating the first few months because all of our ideas weren’t working,” Schletzer says.
The group’s props and outfits were inspired by Evel Knievel’s costumes during his stunts in the 1970s. The group won bronze in the Scholastic World Class for its performance.
Matrix Percussion from Akron, Ohio, performed a show in 2013 called “Covered,” which won fourth place in the Independent World Class. Rob Ferguson directed the group and says the show was “a huge undertaking.”
The show fell onto the top of our list for one reason: paint.
Throughout the show, the players and instruments were doused with different colors of flour- and water-based paint. However, the group seldom rehearsed with paint due to the long cleanup times.
Regarding WGI regulations, Ferguson explains that as long as paint did not get on the performance tarp or on the floor, there were no penalties. “We actually put a front flap on our tarp to help catch paint splatter,” he says. “In addition, we created a beige tarp path from the edge of our tarp to the tunnel. We [also] had a number of people with towels following us out to wipe up anything that dripped in the process.”
According to Ferguson, the paint mixture Matrix used varied in consistency throughout the show. “There were also different consistencies for each paint effect depending on how much we wanted the paint to fly,” he says.
“For instance, the paint our [snare drummers] pulled out of the paint cans was fairly thin, so it would fly a bit,” Ferguson adds. “The paint we dumped over our tenors was very thick finals night to minimize splatter onto the floor and minimize the risk of a battery fall at the end of the show.”
1995 Bishop Kearney
The 1995 season for WGI was a very competitive one. The Bishop Kearney Performance Ensemble from Rochester, N.Y., won gold in the Scholastic World Class with a score of 97.90. Its show, “Sybil,” was one of many controversial and innovative shows by the Bishop Kearney group in the mid-1990s— most of which won gold medals.
Directed by Vince Monacelli, the Bishop Kearney ensemble became known for producing shows that would change the face of WGI. Its shows were so memorable that WGI included its 1996 show in a “15 Shows That Changed WGI” article with its 1995 performance also receiving a mention.
Moments in the 1995 show included members writing on the floor and one of the performers cutting her hair off (no, it wasn’t a wig!) in the final competition. However, “Sybil” could be boiled down to one moment that has stuck with viewers over time: the performer that jumps through a glass window at the end of the show.
Across the Internet, many WGI enthusiasts call the stunt “chilling” and “unforgettable” even to this day. One of the readers that nominated the show to our list called the entire show “theatrical” and noted that it was markedly different from many of the WGI shows of today.
The Northmont High School winter guard from Clayton, Ohio, performed “Dante’s Inferno” in 1997, competing in the Scholastic World Class. The show was one of the most nominated in our surveys—and for good reason. The show concept was very dark and ended with a chilling visual that won’t soon be forgotten.
During the closing moments, a performer hung herself on stage. This was, of course, part of the performance, but it still makes viewers cringe to this day. The negative backlash the program received as a result of the show is blamed for the “downfall” of the perennial powerhouse in the years following. (However, even with trouble in 1997, the group made the finals in 1999 and again in 2002.)
The group’s directors took a gamble on the design aesthetic of the show. The elaborate set was shrouded in black with large structures in the middle of the performance area. The costumes were also black and gray, and the performers wore dark makeup that resembled blood. The music had an eerie feel with a mutated voiceover throughout much of the show.
Despite the negativity surrounding the show, it earned Northmont 5th place and a score of 92.55.
2011 South Shore
The South Shore Drill Team, established in Chicago in 1980, aims to help inner-city youth become engaged in the performing arts. Its 2011 show, “Mind Heist,” won gold in the Independent A Class.
The show received a number of votes for our memorable moments article because of the interesting “use” of props in its show. In fact, the show had no props in the performance area. Instead, the guard used standard equipment—flags and sabers—and still managed to craft an interesting and energy-filled show.
Some of the stunts included a number of extra-high tosses and coordinated flips. Performers also moved through nine squares painted on the tarp, conducting a different synchronized stunt as they moved along.
The final large stunt involved one member tossing a saber across the floor; a different performer vaulted himself over another and caught the saber just as the music ended.
One reader pointed out: “[While] other groups put down flags and use elaborate props to do stunts, [South Shore] does great stunts with the basic equipment.”
The South Shore Drill Team’s success isn’t limited to the floor either. The group was one of 24 groups— selected from a pool of more than 2,800—that performed in the 2013 Presidential Inauguration parade.
About the Author
Mitchell King is a junior majoring in communication at the University of Southern California (USC). He marched alto saxophone for two years before becoming drum major for two years at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Ga. He currently marches alto saxophone for the USC Trojan Marching Band. He aspires to one day open his own public relations firm in Atlanta.