Not many people want to be late to a theater performance for a slew of reasons and at the top of the list is likely embarrassment. At a Blue Man Group show, a late party might pay for their tardiness with exactly that. When a group of three came into the show 20 minutes late …
Get Blue: Blue Man Group Continues to Dazzle Over 30 Years After Their Inception
Not many people want to be late to a theater performance for a slew of reasons and at the top of the list is likely embarrassment. At a Blue Man Group show, a late party might pay for their tardiness with exactly that.
When a group of three came into the show 20 minutes late on Feb. 16, the entire show came to a grinding halt. The performers, embroiled in a scheme to launch a water balloon filled with neon orange paint at a target, froze in place while a spotlight followed the late audience members to their seats.
This brief exercise in public humiliation, luckily laughed off by the offending party exemplified what the Blue Man Group is all about — having a good laugh at the absurdity of everyday life.
The original Blue Man Group first hit New York streets in 1988 to hold a funeral for the ‘80s and the media that defined the decade, according to Forbes. They painted their faces blue and set fire to a Rambo action figure along with a piece of the Berlin Wall in Central Park, unaware they had created what would become a cultural juggernaut.
The choice of blue makes sure the Blue Man Group can’t be compared to any existing character or phenomenon in pop culture — like green to aliens or red to demons — according to a 1999 interview with current Blue Man captain Tom Galassi in the Chicago Tribune.
The show is a glowing kaleidoscope of neon pinks, oranges and yellows from start to finish. Bright paint makes an appearance in most of their skits and performances, decorating drums, canvases and even audience members called up on stage.
The music performed is just as neon in tone and is created on a variety of strange instruments invented specifically for Blue Man Group shows. They have names like “tubulum” and “drumulum,” according to Inc. Magazine, and help define the unique and PVC-pipe-based sound of the Blue Man Group.
What keeps audiences coming back? For music director and band member Graham McLachlan, it’s the ever-changing nature of the show.
Each paint-splattered performance differs from the last, and returning audiences are bound to have a completely different experience because of the constantly shifting content, he said.
The show’s content is changed at least once a year and recently underwent a major content refresh last November, according to Brett Presson, the production stage manager. Certain well-known skits, like drumming with paint and the incorporation of a large PVC pipe marimba-esque instrument, have remained, but new things are constantly being added.
“We’re always working on something, even if it’s not a major content refresh,” Presson said. “We have so much to do and so much that can be tweaked.”
The content is largely at the behest of the artists and performers, and because of the artist-driven nature of the company, the performers have a lot of say over the way the content evolves, Presson said.
Galassi said he has seen a lot of repeat audience members because of the variety of different experiences that audiences can have at these shows.
While holding meet and greets in the lobby — a common practice prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — Galassi was approached by a woman who recognized him, he said. She had seen him perform as a Blue Man when she was a kid and had now brought her child to come and see the show.
As much as being a good drummer is pivotal to becoming a member of the Blue Man Group, sometimes even the most talented drummers get turned away because they can’t commit to the character, said McLachlan.
There are 70 total azure performers across the globe, a far cry from the original three — and one understudy — that made up the initial troupe, according to Inc. Magazine. In that sea of blue, individuality may seem like an impossibility. But by embracing your quirks and maybe even your insecurities, it’s possible to create an individual out of the character that is freeing for the performer, Galassi said.
Before the drumming starts, a series of short messages roll across a small screen to the left and right of the stage. It highlights audience members who are celebrating their birthday or who have been recently striking out in the online dating scene. The audience is then instructed to congratulate and cheer for the singled-out fans.
The theme of centering the audience in the show persists throughout as the group pick members of the crowd for a variety of onstage skits. These skits grow more ridiculous as they go on, often to peals of laughter from the crowd.
Galassi said a skit from a previous show lasted nearly 10 minutes because the audience member on stage couldn’t stop laughing. Those kinds of spontaneous moments keep audiences coming back to the group.
The Blue Man Group spend almost as much time in the audience as they do on stage, even climbing over the seats and making their way to the top of the theater. They stop and stare at members of the crowd, much to the delight of children and adults alike.
“If you were fake or putting it on, the kid would make fun of you,” Galassi. “We have to access that — something that’s very human and real when you’re making eye contact with someone.”
The audience, as much as they’re mesmerized by the paint and the drums, is subconsciously learning alongside the Blue Man Group and is as involved in that pattern of discovery as the group is. This sense of childlike wonder at the shifting world the Blue Men create inside the theater is what creates the connection that has been at the core of the Blue Man ethos since the beginning.
Tickets for the Blue Man Group in Chicago are available on their website.
Featured image courtesy of Justin Barbin