photograph by helen williamson
Originally a drummer in a Queenstown band, John Boone has his lead singer to thank for the idea behind his corporate entertainment company Rhythm Interactive.
“He kept saying to me, ‘You should get into corporate drumming.’” Eventually I took him aside and asked, ‘What exactly do you mean?’”
The singer’s brother was doing group drumming in South Africa and by sheer coincidence Boone had been planning a trip to Cape Town. So in the first of many fortuitous moments that have helped shape the company, Boone met the guys from Drum Cafe, the biggest group-drumming outfit in the world.
“I’d never even played a djembe [African hand drum],” he says. “Drumming with 200 people was fun and watching people’s reactions was inspiring. I couldn’t wait to get back to New Zealand and get started.”
With just a few hundred dollars, some borrowed drums and fellow Dutchman René Sterk on board—Boone’s family emigrated from Holland when he was 11—he started working on an interactive show. “We kidnapped backpackers with the lure of a beer and a sausage and rehearsed in our garage.”
“I’ve seen people so released they’ve broken down in tears, and I’ve seen plenty nearly wet themselves with laughter”
It wasn’t long before the company’s core concept—using mime as the sole communication—came to the fore. “There was confusion at first, people didn’t understand what to do, then one day I just came in and played two slaps on my drum. Quickly the group followed suit. It was a lightbulb moment.”
With a refreshing concept and a vivacious front man, the business got off to a great start, working corporate events and teambuilding days. But then the local market stalled. With funds dwindling, Boone sold personal possessions, including his car, and made a makeshift bedroom in his garage so he could rent out his room. Determined to get things going again, he made a call to Celebrity Speakers in Auckland. “They were intrigued and straight away I recognised a different mentality—a bigger city with more open doors.” It was to be the best phone call of his career, leading to bookings that have never stopped.
The company now owns 2,500 drums and has performed 820 shows since its inception in April 2003 with 980 people being their biggest group session. In 2009 the company won Best Entertainment in The Corporate Events Guide’s People’s Choice awards.
Job satisfaction is constant. “You can literally see the barriers being broken,” says Boone. “A salesperson from Tokyo, say, will be sitting next to someone from the Australian sales office. There’s tension, and then the experience explodes. I’ve seen people so released they’ve broken down in tears, and I’ve seen plenty nearly wet themselves with laughter.”
In 2008, Boone hired an ex-bandmate to take the shows into schools. When the economy took a dive and corporates reduced their spending, the school division effectively recession-proofed the business. “It’s also a great training ground for staff.”
Rhythm Interactive is a company built on passion, fusing Boone’s two great loves, music and drama. Last year he set up a theatre division and launched a show, Drumania, which he markets as “an interactive Stomp”.
He has big dreams for Drumania. The first step: he’s designing a new plastic drum that’s light and MAFfriendly. “The new drums will revolutionise the show and make it possible to take it overseas. I see it going global.”