The Blue Man Group broke its silence April 8.
In a rare treat, Cal Poly students were able to interact with the Blue Man Group unmasked and outside of character. Cal Poly Theatre and Dance Department, in conjunction with Expressive Technology Studios, hosted Blue Man Group performers Russell Rinker and Shane Andries for an exclusive sit down with students. The meet-and-greet took place on Tuesday in H.P. Davidson Music Center, room 212 at 11 a.m.
Blue Man Group is an example of an experimental theater troupe that was able to achieve commercial success, theatre and media studies lecturer Steve Luber said. Luber hosted the meeting, acting as an interviewer for the casual, informal and personal “Inside the Actors Studio”-formatted session.
“It’s a combination of the actors speaking about the Blue Man Group, what their performances are like, why they’re significant and the themes, and also a chance for students to talk to working professionals in theater,” Luber said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to speak with professionals in the field. Really, they get to meet a Blue Man, and how cool is that?”
Technology in action
For 25 years, Blue Man Group, the bald-headed, blue-painted performance trio, has shaken up the contemporary art scene with percussion, pantomime and pandemonium.
Although its performances are part vaudeville entertainment and part high-octane rock concert, the Blue Man Group raises philosophical questions about the technological age and taps into the cultural desire to reconnect with community, Luber said.
“Because they are these alien creatures, they approach technology as if they don’t understand it, so it gets the audience to look at these technologies like cell phones, television — and they now have this thing they call the Gi-Pad, which is a not so subtle reference to a tablet — and rethink how we use them and how it both connects us and isolates us,” Luber said.
The Blue Man Group guest speakers Rinker and Andries mirrored this sentiment.
“The show is so much about the lack of connectivity we have and breaking through that barrier,” Andries said.
“The irony is that our show talks about being dependent on technology, and it’s probably the most dependent on technology,” Rinker said.
The Blue Man Group performance tour came with six trucks of lights, props and other equipment, Cal Poly Arts programming development specialist Denise Leader Stoeber said.
“This is the biggest show that I’ve seen come in,” Leader Stoeber said. “I think six trucks is the most we’ve ever had.”
Along with its own lighting, electronic equipment and props, the crew brought two washing machines, one for normal clothes and one for clothes tainted by blue makeup.
“It was very considerate of them to bring their own because, if not, everything would have been dyed blue,” Leader Stoeber said.
It took the crew approximately five hours to do the wash before the show, Leader Stoeber said.
The lights, props and equipment take up both wings of the stage.
Blue as a brand
The original Blue Man Group — Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton — started as street performers in the late ’80s. Despite such humble beginnings, now there are approximately 50 to 60 Blue Men, Rinker said.
Along with this tour, the Blue Man Group has six permanent shows, a show on the Norwegian Cruise Line and a Grammy-nominated album.
So how did a street act become a global empire?
“It’s always evolving,” Andries said. “It has to be a commentary on today for the show to stay the same.”
Blue Man Group threw out all of the old rules, ditched apparent plot and did away with verbal dialogue. Instead, Blue Man Group delivers a multimedia experience that defies — and even mocks — convention.
In just some of the troupe’s acts, Blue Man Group makes music by chomping on Cap’n Crunch Cereal, spins a canvas while spitting paint on it to create artwork and uses PCV tubing as instruments. In Andries’ favorite bit, the Blue Man Group invites a female audience member on stage for a “feast” (this entails spewing regurgitated food at points).
To preserve the integrity of the creators’ vision, after each Blue Man is cast, the actor goes through an eight-week training process.
Some of the training includes: throwing and catching marshmallows from long distances, observing dogs’ interactions and breaking free from individual, human mannerisms, Rinker said.
“There’s a certain physical language to the Blue Man. As in, the Blue Man moves in a very specific way,” Rinker said.
The Blue Man does not swing his arms when he walks. He does not talk. He does not breathe through his mouth or open it all. He does not multitask. He moves with direct purpose. He focuses on objects.
The Blue Man is curious, mysterious and a trickster. The Blue Man is a foreigner, a jester, a scientist and a hero.
“They break you down and set you back up to discover your own Blue Man,” Rinker said. “It’s all very organic.”
Advice from the actors
Being an actor for the Blue Man Group is an exercise in internal monologue, subtext and intention, Andries said.
“You develop a bag of tricks as an actor,” Andries said. “If you fall back on the things that work for you, you’re never going to grow.”
Because the Blue Man Group performers cannot speak, they must learn to communicate in a universal, physical language with emphasis on their eyes and their movements.
“There’s so much you can communicate without speaking; it’s the essence of physical storytelling,” Andries said.
But the biggest piece of advice Andries has for Cal Poly students is the importance of humility and personal character.
“Say yes to anything when you’re first starting out,” he said. “And more important than your acting is how you are as a person. When people cast, they think, ‘Do I want to hang out with this person? Do I want to go to a cast party with this person?’”
Blue Man Group performed at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center on Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Both shows sold out. San Luis Obispo was the fourth stop on the group’s tour.