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The Blue Man Group The Blue Man Group begins an eight-show stand at the Stranahan Theater on Tuesday.
The Blue Man Group begins an eight-show stand at the Stranahan Theater on Tuesday.
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Published: 12/2/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Toledo's got the blues

Troupe mixes science, spirituality in unusual show

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Consider for a moment the mind of a Blue Man.

Traveling in groups of three — always three — the Blue Man is definitely alien, but is he from another planet? Why doesn’t he speak? He seems kind of creepy, but there’s a playfulness to him that makes him seem sort of like your long lost imaginary friend. And how the heck did he get to be such a good drummer?

Chris Smith, a young actor from California is a Blue Man -- one of about 40 in the troupe's various locales -- and he’s somewhat helpful in answering these questions, but as befits the mystery of the popular mainstream performance art group, he also keeps things comfortably enigmatic.

For example, ask him who exactly are the Blue Men and the perfectly friendly and casually evasive Smith offers this answer:

“There are so many different versions depending on the one you like. But there is definitely a deep, deep connection between the three of them, whether they’re related in a familial way like a clan of brother aliens.

“One of the best descriptions I’ve heard and the one I like the best is that they are all formed from the same can of paint. Almost like if this can of blue paint was able to manifest itself as this humanoid type of thing.”

The group, which begins an eight-show stand at the Stranahan Theater Tuesday, was formed in 1987 by three New York performers Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton. The act, which features drumming, improvisation, techno music, and a strange mix of science and spirituality grew in popularity over the years.

Members of the Blue Man Group promote their new show at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas in October. Members of the Blue Man Group promote their new show at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas in October.
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Now Blue Man Group has year-around shows in Boston, Chicago, Orlando, New York, Las Vegas, and Berlin, and it regularly tours the country. Smith is part of the touring ensemble.

A 2006 PBS documentary on the group called Inside the Tubes explored some of the themes that are featured in the shows, including technology, information overload, innocence, science, and spirituality.

Smith said those are all an important part of the characters’ back stories, which are never fully revealed so that audiences can add their own interpretations to what they see.

“It is an egoless character and I think that’s where that innocence can come across. There is no judgment from inside as to whether or not we like something or dislike something,” he said.

Smith joined the group last year purely by accident. After graduating from UCLA’s theater program he practiced various forms of physical acting, including clowning and juggling and when he heard about auditions for Blue Man Group he thought it would be a good chance to hone his skills and get outside his comfort zone.

Other than seeing the Blue Men in the iconic Dell ad a few years he was unfamiliar with the act.

“I just thought, ‘Well, what a cool little three-day work shop if nothing else, just to kind of glimpse into another world of theater because it is so unique and unlike anything else,” Smith said. “Lo and behold, I freaking made it through.”

His biggest challenge was improving his drumming. The show is heavy on percussion, with the characters beating on drums, pipes, and pretty much anything in front of them. He was given six months to get up to speed on his drumming and to understand the inner life of a Blue Man.

“They give you a packet and in the packet there’s a lot of stuff from the original creators about the mind of a Blue Man and what it represents and how it came about; kind of like a frequently asked questions list about the life of a Blue Man from the inside.”

Next was training in New York where after a week or so the new guys are worked into the show there. Because the characters all roughly look alike — that’s what heavy blue paint and a skull cap will do — they can bring new actors in for a “sink or swim moment” during a break in the show without the audience even knowing a change was made, Smith said.

He also is drawn to the improvisational nature of the 90-minute shows. The Blue Men routine break down the “fourth wall” between the audience and the actors, wandering into the crowd, reacting to noises in the theater or ushers’ movements, and generally having a good time being strange.

The combination of the cerebral and physical is appealing to the 27-year-old Smith, who just finished a screenplay and hopes to eventually become a film director.

“You’re kind of constantly vacillating between the world of a hero or a trickster. There’s a shamanistic element too where you kind of try to channel that reverence for people and the character,” he said.

“A big part of it is scientific, with that curiosity. So it appears to be three guys in blue paint, [but] there’s a big kind of emotional wheel you’re going through on stage. There’s a lot going on.”

Blue Man Group will be at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., for eight shows beginning Tuesday. Shows Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be at 8 p.m. Shows Saturday and next Sunday will be at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets range from $28 to $63 and are available at the Stranahan box office, by calling 419-381-8851 or online at www.stranahantheater.com.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.

 



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