Color Me Curious
The Blue Man Group explores the absurdity of modern life via multimedia content, audience participation, homemade instruments, live painting, and a surprising amount of snack foods.
Many describe them as extraterrestrial entertainers. Others say they’re tribal and primal. Some even go as far as to say they’re a variety, sideshow experiment gone terribly right.
But using words to describe Blue Man Group would be an extreme injustice. Words alone can’t encompass who they are. Words cannot explain what they do. Words fall short of representing the phenomenon that’s been enthralling audiences for three decades.
Maybe that’s why Blue Man Group chooses not to use words at all.
“The Blue Man Group doesn’t communicate the way normal people do,” says Mike Brown, who went blue over 10 years ago and has never looked back. “The way I like to see it is it’s not that they can’t talk, but they choose not to.”
Instead of speaking, the group explores the world around them, living and discovering in the moment with childlike curiosity. “There’s a more tangible, universal way to connect rather than speaking,” says Brown. “Whether that be physical or through music to get your body moving or just looking into someone’s eyes.”
Although many might not know what the Blue Man Group is, its entrance into the world can be traced back to 1987 and three college friends — Chris Wink, Phil Stanton, and Matt Goldman — who were tired of the theater scene at the time. “They wanted to create something they would want to see themselves,” says Brown.
It wasn’t until 1988 when MTV aired their performance that the group captured the attention of the world. The Blue Man Group led a funeral precession to Central Park, burning all the things they wanted to leave behind from the 1980s. Brown says at that time they spoke but soon realized there were better ways to connect with people than with words.
In the Blue Man Group’s silence, they discovered music, particularly drumming, was a great way to communicate and feel things. “The music is the entangled metaphor of Blue Man Group,” says Brown.
Best known for PVC pipe instruments, which take all three Blue Man to play, their instruments are unlike anything else seen or heard in a rock concert or theater show.
“You can feel the sound and energy within the room,” says Brown. “It’s not like anything you have seen.”
To say watching Blue Man Group is an experience is an understatement.
All three Blue Man members look the same, but each one has different tasks to achieve throughout the night. You will never see Blue Man in less than three because the group acts as one collective. Blue Man Group explores the world with curiosity and an adventurous spirit.
Music is only part of the world they explore. Inspired by abstract artists’ ability to use paint to express their inner state, Blue Man Group also uses paint musically to evoke the audiences’ senses and emotions.
Their use of technology, lighting, and lasers, as well as comedy, improv, and audience participation, results in a show that is fresh and always evolving. “People never know what to expect,” says Brown. “It’s 100% fun, and unlike any other theatrical experience you would see.”
Blue Man Group always approaches each show as entering the world of the audience. Since each audience is unique and happens in a place they’ve never been, they’re cautious and curious.
“Anything can happen at any moment, especially when you add in audience participation,” says Brown. “There’s always an X-factor, and we remain in character to do the best performance possible. We pride ourselves on creating something for that particular audience and that group performing.”
One of Brown’s favorite things is that there’s no script for them to memorize or think about.
“I can go out there thinking I am a wizard or medieval knight that slays a dragon hovering over the audience,” says Brown. “Once I do, they will be ready to dance and party, but no one else knows what I am thinking.”
Experiencing Blue Man Group may feel more like a variety or vaudeville show than a theatrical story with a plot. And that’s the genius of it. They’ve learned the secret to staying afloat in the live entertainment industry; to capture an audience and keep them coming back, you have to do something no one else is doing.
And come back they do. Show after show. Year after year.
Brown joined the Blue Man family in 2003 after seeing them in 1997 on a college trip. “I completely fell in love with it,” says Brown. “It was something I knew I wanted to be a part of, so it became a goal of mine. I’m lucky enough to say a dream come true.”
Brown is excited about the direction the North American Tour has taken under visionary, artistic director, Jenny Koons, and the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.
“Jenny was brought in to help explore areas that Blue Man Group has never tackled before and to get the regular writers and directors out of their comfort zone,” says Brown. “Through Jenny, we were able to find a lot more wonder, a lot more excitement, and base level attributes of the character without having to apply the old, for lack of a better word, rules with the character.”
People who’ve seen Blue Man Group before will notice the differences.
“The show is about 98% different from what people have seen in a Blue Man Group show. We have our signature pieces that are classic favorites from our old or different shows, but the set is much bigger,” says Brown.
The set is unlike anything else erected in a Blue Man Group show.
“We imagine it’s our workshop. So there’s more inviting into our workspace, the way we work, the way we act, the way we see the world around us,” says Brown. “There’s more audience participation because right from the beginning, we venture out and explore and interact with them. It’s a very different way for the audience to see Blue Man.”
No one is immune from Blue Man’s curiosity as they create pieces and call upon the audience to help them move the show along.
“It’s just so much fun,” says Brown. “Everyone who walks out of the show says they had a blast.”
But at the end of the day, through all the fun and zaniness, the main goal of the show is to connect with people.
“It’s to get the audience outside of their normal comfort zone of being alone and realizing there’s a whole world around them,” says Brown.
In a day and age where everyone can feel alone on their phones in a room full of people, the show invites people back to a time when there was a broader sense of connection, and people created a shared experience in laughter and being together.
So why, if the show brings such connection, laughter, and joy, is the Blue Man blue?
Some people say it’s because “blue man” sounds like human. Others say the creators were inspired by an artist who worked with the color blue. Brown doesn’t know why the Blue Man is blue, but the answer he likes best is it fits with the name.
He points out that other colors already have thoughts and emotions associated with them like red for anger or the devil, or green for aliens.
“While we may not be from the typical location, we’re not aliens,” says Brown. “We’re foreign and interact the way most people won’t. The blue makes us different. Blue is also a very creative but calming color. There are some high-energy qualities to it and easy energy quality.”
Although many people think the Blue Man gets his color from a mask, Brown says, “It’s still grease paint. It’s simple, but it creates something of a complex metaphor for what we do.”
Getting into character takes about 30 minutes. A simple bald cap is held on with glue. Blue grease paint is applied over that and then their entire face.
Once the makeup process begins, so does the transformation of Brown to Blue. “It’s incredible how much the bald cap, the makeup, and the costume transforms you,” says Brown. “It changes you when you see yourself in the mirror.”
Brown says getting into character is like “stripping away layers of yourself and putting on a different layer of a version of yourself. You get to tap into your more creative self, the fun self, the person who can improvise and go down any path for the beauty and the fun.”
Blue Man Group
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St. | Tulsa
Jan. 20-22: 7:30 p.m.
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