Clash Of The Corps Interview – Catie Toal And Kobina Sampson-Davis
For years, drum corps fans and participants have uttered this phrase:
Drum corps – For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible
The frustration we’ve felt in the activity in trying to explain what we do and why we love it so much outside of “it’s marching band on steroids” has begun to ease, however. With recent documentaries such as Throw It Down and Scouts Honor, fans now have ways to show drum corps muggles what life was and is like in the upper echelon of the marching arts. Now, a new TV docu-series, Clash of the Corps, brought to us by Executive Producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (yes, THAT The Rock!), hopes to show mainstream audiences just how incredible drum corps is, introducing the activity to a new wave of fans in the process.
Clash of the Corps follows both the Blue Devils and the Cadets, two of the winningest organizations in drum corps history, throughout the 2016 season. I recently had the opportunity to interview members from each of these corps.. Their experiences and insights into both their 2016 tour and participating in filming a television series while on the road are just as interesting as the show itself.
Let’s first meet Kobina Sampson-Davis since he actually is who we first meet in the opening episode. Kobina (Kobe for short) is a member of the Cadets horn line, playing trumpet, and his audition experience at the very start of the season is our introduction to the show and viewers’ first glimpse of drum corps. I asked Kobina, who marched with Troopers in 2015, why he chose the Cadets:
When I was auditioning for the 2016 season, everything about the Cadets spoke to me. All season long the previous year, when I was on tour with the Troopers, I had admired their show and saw them every time I had the opportunity. I loved their classic uniform, their musical selections over the years, their audition process, their carriage in public, the culture within the corps, their visual design and the seemingly impossible drill they would write every year, their marching style, the instruments they were using, and of course I admired the sustained success of the corps over their lifetime – but especially in the last 35 years. I wanted to audition at other places as well and was very excited about showing off all the skills I had learned at the Troopers, but thinking pragmatically, it made more sense to sign the contract I got from the Cadets so I could start paying tuition and so I wouldn’t be faced with having to decide between more than one corps if I had earned any other contracts.
The other Clash participant I interviewed is Catie Toal of the Blue Devils. If you saw their show this past season, you saw Catie on the field as she portrayed Miranda, daughter of Prospero and one of the main characters of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, on which BD’s 2016 show was made on.
I asked Catie what got her interested in drum corps:
My high school instructor Matt Winans and Lopez Reese introduced me to who The Blue Devils were my freshman year, and I was interested ever since. It has truly been a dream of mine to march for this beautiful organization for years.
What’s especially impressive about Catie is that she handles being a featured performer with such poise at just 18. Catie also represented the Blue Devils and the activity well in this Indianapolis Star interview regarding Clash of the Corps. A major part of Catie’s motivation in her performance is revealed in the first episode of Clash.
Of course, there’s a slight difference between the average drum corps tour and one with a film crew documenting the experience. What was it like for Catie, Kobina, and the corps?
Having the TV crew was an absolute blast this summer. I got to personally know many of the people that filmed and producers and I just fell in love with how committed they were to getting this “right.” They were constantly asking questions and determined to learn what it is we do every day in Drum Corps and why we do it. They were kind with giving us our space, they never came into where we were sleeping such as gyms, but filmed most of what we would do on and off the field. I loved that they filmed simple things like lunch breaks, because sometimes that is the best part of Drum Corps. Enjoying the company of the people you love in the most simplest of ways, not to mention to most comical moments and a lifetime worth of laughter that Drum Corps produces. I have honestly never laughed as much as I did this summer. Working with my peers and the staff created some incredible moments, and I feel very blessed that the camera crew caught some of that to share with the world.
They weren’t too intrusive during rehearsals and mostly did their work without being noticed too much. There was a slight feeling of being watched when they were around, but in drum corps you’re always being watched anyway. The staff is looking at your every move during rehearsals and people often come to watch rehearsals if they are open to the public. At times it could be frustrating when they wanted to do an interview between rehearsal blocks or during our prep time before leaving for shows, “EPL” (eat, pack, load) and I already was barely taking care of my daily responsibilities with that time — or if I had to be at a rehearsal at a certain time and there were technical difficulties with the equipment. I always really valued time outside of rehearsal at the cadets because there simply was very little of it. Knowing I was showing the world what we do while simultaneously making something I could go back and watch to relive my own memories for years to come was always so exciting. I remembered that when I wasn’t too thrilled about giving up time to do interviews.
With a title like Clash of the Corps, the expected focus is on the competition aspect of the activity in general and between the Blue Devils and Cadets in particular. Indeed, during the first episode, the subject of competition and its importance to drum corps is brought up with some of the members. With 27 DCI titles between the two of them, including 7 of the last decade, both of these corps are almost always in the hunt for the top spot in the activity. The Blue Devils were in the race for the title in 2016, eventually earning the silver medal, while the Cadets finished in 6th. I wanted to know if the focus of the documentary film crews changed as the season progressed.
Catie did believe there was a shift in focus:
I feel in the beginning of the season it was about Cadets vs. The Blue Devils — to understand the competition aspect, which is always there in Drum Corps because you are competing. However, as the season went along I felt the crew focused on us, the performers. They were genuine in getting to know me as a person, not just a competitor. They focused on the friendships we made within the corps, as well as from corps to corps. By the end, I never really got asked about how I felt about the competition, but rather how I was doing and how I felt in that moment. I think the camera crew did an amazing job of learning as they went, because truly describing Drum Corps is impossible unless you have experienced it. I think the camera crew really got the hang of it.
Kobina also noticed a change in what the film crews focused on:
In the beginning they focused a lot on shooting cool things they found, beauty shots of the corps in action, the introduction of the cast and their stories, relationships between the members in the corps. As the season progressed, they focused more on day to day life in spring training and on tour, our performances, what we do behind the scenes before performances, and the craziness of bus life.
As of this article, neither Kobina nor Catie have seen any of the footage taken by the Clash crews during the season. I was curious to know if there were any particular moments from their experiences this summer which they hoped to see on the show once it was released.
For Kobina, one moment in particular came to mind:
One moment i really hope shows up is a half serious argument that my seat partner and I had over M&Ms on one of the last days of tour. It captures our relationship perfectly I think. If I had to pick a singular moment as my favorite, it would probably be one of the rare times when my friends and I got to just be friends hanging out, not as members in a drum corps, for a few hours. Those really kept me sane in all the chaos of day to day life.
Catie, on the other hand, had many moments from her summer which she hoped Clash would convey to the audience:
Honestly, my favorite moments were when I was laughing. Every part of this summer’s journey was incredible to me. Like in the beginning, learning at Mars, a dirt devil came and swirled around the whole corps and everything began to blow around and you could just hear the laughter burst from everyone. Or when we were on a lunch break throwing grapes back and forth at each other and making a comical war out of a simple fruit. All the bus rides were my favorite, and all the silly pictures my seat partner and I took. Or the one time it absolutely poured and The Blue Devils and The Cadets were stuck underneath a covering, since we could not perform. And having to run place to place to pack everything away – getting completely soaked – but you just could not help but laugh at the situation and how much fun it became. That is what I remember. All the moments it was hot or raining all of a sudden, or if I was a little extra sweaty or tired. I still found myself absolutely in love with life because those are the moments that make you who you are. Those moments are why I go back every summer.
Kobina, Catie, and Clash of the Corps will make their broadcast debut on the Fuse network on Wednesday, October 5, at 11PM Eastern. Visit the Fuse website to find out if your cable network carries Fuse. You can watch Clash of the Corps on your iOS or Android mobile device (cable subscription required). Episodes of Clash of the Corps will also be available to stream on Hulu the day after they air. You can hear more from Catie in this Marching Roundtable podcast interview about Clash of the Corps. Be sure to share Clash of the Corps with your friends and help spread awareness of the drum corps activity!