Those kozmic blues

The Blue Man Group combines rock concert experience with sci-fi theater.

blue man group 2 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
blue man group 2 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When someone strikes up a conversation with Brian Scott on an airplane, the topic invariably comes around to what he does for a living. And even though he's been doing it for 12 years, the 42-year-old native of Vermont still finds it difficult to explain that he's a blue man. A Blue Man, that is, as in Blue Man Group, a trio of mute performers who present themselves in blue grease paint over latex bald caps and black clothing while playing a mixture of idiosyncratic instruments. It's visual hard rock; actually, it's more theatrical science fiction - no, it's kind of avant garde dance… ach, I give up. You can see why Scott has trouble pinning down what he does. "After 12 years, it's still hard to answer. It's something you have to see in order to understand. I could talk about the different elements, the interesting music, the powerful lighting, the universal humor, but I couldn't describe exactly what's funny," said Scott on the phone from his New York home. "All the different elements combine to create a unique kind of excitement that's almost for sure not what you expect." "Expect the unexpected" is the only sure rule at a Blue Man Group performance. Featuring percussion-heavy live rock music highlighted by inventive instruments never before seen, odd props, wacko lighting, various substances like paints and other liquids, and a fair amount of audience participation, the show provides an aural and visual overload. But even all that competition is no match for the stars of the show - the Blue Men. With their earless, bright blue heads and faces and nondescript clothing, the Blue Men are characters approximating real human beings. With no speech or broad body gestures, they communicate through intense eye contact and simple gestures like raised eyebrows. "To me, the unique thing about the characters is that there's a fair amount of subtlety involved with what we do that conveys a lot of emotions without having to do a lot," explained Scott. "The characters have this childlike quality. You wouldn't expect to identify with them when you see them, but they possess qualities we all have. If you think of a combination of a child and at the same time a superhero - because if you think about it, most superheroes have this awkwardness about them when they're not being superheroes - and of course, mix in a scientist, because a Blue Man is curious about everything. He's also a trickster and there's a fair amount of a Shaman-like qualities," added Scott. ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED in the late 1980s by a trio of New York actors and musicians - Phil Stanton, Chris Wink and Matt Goldman - Blue Man Group evolved into a show that by 1991 had made its way to Broadway. In the early years, there was a "poncho section" of the audience in which viewers were provided with plastic ponchos in order to protect them from various substances which were sprayed from the stage during the performance. "We did the poncho warning for years, but it's always been more of a perceived threat than a real one. It's actually more possible in the smaller theater shows than in the type of bigger rock concert show we're doing now," said Scott. "Audience participation is something we're into, but our goal isn't to make anyone uncomfortable. We like to involve the audience, it's really interesting - but not if they don't want to," he added. Music began to play a more prominent role in the group's shows, and in 1999, it released its first album. Three years later, Blue Man Group participated in Moby's Area2 tour, giving a more rock-oriented performance than in the theatrical shows - a trend which has continued and has helped the Blue Men evolve into American cultural icons. Blue Man Group has appeared in an Intel advertising campaign, it performs regularly on late night television - and the height of pop culture achievement, it's even been parodied on The Simpsons. As its popularity grew, the group's creators cloned more Blue Men troupes, branched out into Las Vegas, and in 2006 launched its current extravaganza, the Megastar tour, which arrives in Tel Aviv for nightly shows from June 4th through June 9th at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Hall 1, with assigned seating. Scott, who joined the group in 1997 as a performer, has for the past few years been more involved in training and casting the performers and directing shows. "I haven't performed for a while, so I'm excited to be back onstage," he said. A guitarist and pianist, Scott had been playing in rock bands in the 1990s when he accompanied a friend from Vermont who was going to an audition for the group in New York. "I thought at the time that I would like to give it a try. It's funny, but I had an immediate connection with the character," said Scott, who recalled a grueling audition process involving five callbacks. WHILE THE makeup results in a uniform appearance, Scott said that there is no clear-cut rule on the physical qualities that Blue Men need to possess. It's more about their inner blue. "There aren't really any physical requirements, it's more on a case by case basis. There are some general guidelines, like a height range and a certain kind of look, but nothing is written in stone," he said. "Basically, we're looking for people who have something about them - people who are capable of exuding charisma." "It's important to be the kind of person that people want to watch onstage. It's not that easy to find that combination with musicians. It can't be learned. Some performers have trouble trusting themselves initially. But once you get them to begin trusting themselves, they become more of what we're looking for." What they're looking for is a character who can be part of a three-man organism, interacting intuitively with his partners, and subtly "checking in" with the other two when making decisions and before moving to his next action. There are some behavior rules to follow, like the Blue Man "salute" - both arms raised in the air - and "jazz hands" are famously forbidden. But the key, said Scott, is to develop a personality within the confines of the role. "I guess there are a lot of things a Blue Man does and doesn't do. It's true - no jazz hands are allowed," he laughed. "It's a fully developed character, like at any show or play. All we ask the performers to do is to learn the Blue Man character - but not to do an impersonation. Bring your own personality to it." ALTHOUGH THE Blue Man Group shows have changed over the years, there are some themes that remain constant in their attempts at thought-provoking satire on modern life, whether it's the ongoing theater shows playing in cities around the world or the touring Megastar rock show - including science and technology, information overload and innocence, like when the Blue Men appear to be surprised and perplexed by common artifacts of modern society. But according to Scott, the Megastar show is based on an experience that almost everyone in his generation is familiar with - the rock concert. "This show is completely different from what people see when they come to a show in one of the cities we're based in," said Scott. "Our traveling show is really a take on the rock concert experience. What you end up with is a rock concert as put on by the Blue Man characters - which is a funny setup, because the Blue Man doesn't have that rock star ego. What we came up with is a parody of the world of rock, and the ego and excesses involved. At the same time, we're putting on an actual rock concert, with great music, beautiful lighting." Originally scheduled to arrive here in March, the Blue Man Group Megastar World Tour was postponed at the time because, according to promoter Ze'ev Isaacs, the group was fearful that Operation Cast Lead would still be going on, and it didn't want to appear insensitive to the casualties on both sides. But Scott said that this time, it's full steam ahead. "We're totally looking forward to coming to Israel. Everybody in New York I tell goes 'oh, man, I wish I were going.'" But not everybody can be a Blue Man.