Behind the blue: a look into the ‘Blue Man Group’

_BMA0666x_portrait-RGB-Credit Lindsey Best 916 x 515

Before the ‘Blue Man Group’ busts into TPAC’s Jackson Hall Feb. 11-16, we thought we should take a peek behind the face paint and bald caps to see what has kept the drums tuned and marshmallows flying since 1991.

Through non-verbal comedy, one-of-a-kind percussion instruments and vibrant color, the ‘Blue Man Group’ engages audiences of all ages with the universal language of humor. They are Grammy-nominated artists who have collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Tiesto, Dave Matthews, Jill Scott and — most recently — the Killers.

The show is an absurd and wondrous blend of music, painting, science and technology, as the Blue Men silently engage in a variety of set pieces that run the gamut from primitive and childlike to witty and sophisticated. Ever since emerging from New York City as the brainchild of friends Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton, the character has been the springboard for numerous additional ventures, including a rock tour, a museum exhibition, a 3D movie and a school.

So, what goes into the rhythmic ruckus that has reached over 35 million people worldwide?

‘Blue Man Group’ by the numbers

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Photo credit: Lindsey Best

It takes approximately 17 crew members to run each show, depending on the venue. This includes wardrobe, props, video, sound, electrics, deck and stage management. Each week the list of “consumables” includes, approximately:

  • 60 drumheads, for the drums in the band loft and on the stage
  • 16 cymbals on the drum kit
  • 64 drumsticks used by Blue Men and Band members
  • 50 gallons of specially mixed paint in three vibrant colors
  • 32 pounds of Jell-O
  • 8 boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal
  • 40 pieces of white chocolate Toblerone
  • 385 marshmallows
  • 44 boxes of Twinkle Lights
  • 21 bald caps
  • 28 cakes of blue makeup specially made for Blue Man Group

It all begins with drums

Drums can be found in nearly every civilization since the dawn of time. Though styles may vary from Kodo drummers to djembe jam sessions to Keith Moon, all cultures seem to share the primal urge to create tribal rhythms.

The Blue Men build their own drums and instruments, with most of them bring made of polyvinyl chloride – or PVC – pipes. They drum with such power and veracity that the vibrations and sound waves can literally shake our chest cavities, perhaps even rattle us into remembering where we all began.

“Drumming and rhythm is innate to all people,” says Josh Matthews, Blue Man Music Trainer for Blue Man Productions. “As a Blue Man, you have an opportunity to tap into this primal, visceral and intuitive nature inherent in your life — rhythm! Through drumming, the Blue Man taps into an ancient mode of communication — one that we can all relate to and understand.  It’s a thriving pulse that undulates throughout the performance and hopefully resonates with both performer and audience creating a profound connection.”

The audition process

If you think it’s difficult to express the full spectrum of human emotion without speaking a word — you’d be right.

The audition process to become a ‘Blue Man’ is brutal. For every 1,000 actors who try out, only one will succeed.

“The audition process for the Blue Man band is as unique as the Blue Man character itself,” says Jeremmiah Kops, a ‘Blue Man Group’ string player. “There really is no way to prepare for it other than to show up, be yourself and be open to thinking outside of the box.”

Not only must ‘Blue Men’ be experienced actors and intuitive improvisational artists, but they obviously must have incredible drumming skills. Each show has approximately three ‘Blue Men’ and three band members. So with there being about 75 groups total worldwide, there must be a continuous cycle of talent coming through the organization.

“I take the casting process very seriously,” says Associate Music Director Jeff Quay. “It can be a vulnerable process for the auditionee. I keep that in mind each time I audition someone and try to make them as comfortable as possible.  I’m looking for a musician who has a keen sense of awareness and who can assimilate a wide breadth of input into their playing.”

Below is a video chronicling one man’s experience:

History of the ‘Blue Man Group’

Everything begins with the Blue Man, and although he’s been around for more almost three decades, his founders still can’t entirely explain where he came from. Like the character himself, his origin is enigmatic.

‘Blue Man Group’ originated with three friends fresh out of college who made a life-defining decision together. Chris Wink, Phil Stanton, and Matt Goldman determined they would achieve lives of meaning and purpose, forging their own road and following their own path.

Chris Wenk (left), Phil Stanton (middle) and Matt Goldman (right) co-founded and performed in the 'Blue Man Group' in New York City in 1991.

Chris Wenk (left), Phil Stanton (middle) and Matt Goldman (right) co-founded and performed in the ‘Blue Man Group’ in New York City in 1991.

When their creative impulses led them to develop a bald and blue character they called ‘Blue Man’ (to evoke the word human), more than a few people raised eyebrows. Undeterred, the partners invested their time and resources into following this curious character into a small theatre in New York City. What transpired was a ground-breaking performance that moved and inspired audiences. This unprecedented theatrical success led to ongoing accolades, awards and genre-jumping opportunities. Blue Man Productions is now a global entertainment company best known for the award-winning ‘Blue Man Group’ show, performed in over 20 countries and seen by more than 35 million people worldwide since 1991. A dynamic combination of art, music, comedy and technology, the show’s euphoric celebration of human connection has universal appeal for a broad range of age groups and cultural backgrounds. The show is continually refreshed with new music, fresh stories, custom instruments and state-of-the-art technology. ‘Blue Man Group’ has permanent theatrical productions in New York, Las Vegas, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Berlin and a World Tour.

This creative collective has become part of the pop culture zeitgeist. ‘Blue Man Group’ has served as the face of branding campaigns for Intel and TIM/Brasil and appeared countless times on hit shows like The Tonight Show, Arrested Development, Ellen, Schlag den Raab (Germany), WOWOW (Japan), and Caldeirão do Huck (Brasil). Beyond the stage show, they are Grammy-nominated recording artists, known for their contributions to various film and TV scores and multiple ‘Blue Man Group’ albums, including their most recent, THREE. Their ‘Megastar World Tour’ rock concert parody played arenas across the globe. The group’s recently published first-ever book, Blue Man World, is a visually stunning anthropological exploration of the curious bald and blue character.

Still artist-owned-and-operated and based in New York City, Blue Man Productions has extensive production facilities, a training centre, recording studios and a 6,000 square foot Research & Development Lab with numerous new creative projects in the pipeline.

If you’re feeling blue, get your tickets for the ‘Blue Man Group,’ coming to TPAC’s Jackson Hall Feb. 11-16. For more information, call 615-782-4040 or visit tpac.org.

In the meantime, maybe this clip of a “drumbone,” an instrument created by the ‘Blue Man Group,’ will tie you over until next February.

Connect with Michael Aldrich on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @michaelwaldrich.

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