Entertainment

True blue performers

Let’s get the burning question out of the way: Yes, there are Blue Women. They are rare, but the Blue Man Group isn’t some “no-girls-allowed” club.

“They wear the same latex bald cap that we do to hide our hair and ears,” says Kirk Massey, a Blue Man since 2005. “They cover their faces in the same glossy blue grease paint that we do. If they meet the age and height requirements — over 18 and between 5-10 and 6-2 — and have the stamina, they can be a Blue Man.”

Jerry Kops, one of four on-stage musicians since 2006 who back up the three Blue Men at the heart of the show, says, “It doesn’t change the dynamic. The key is that they all look alike.”

They become just one of the guys — or the guys become one of the gals, if you want to think of it that way,” Kops says with a laugh. “Blue Men are all essentially the same character.”

Of the 30 official Blue Men currently touring the world in groups of three to explore the wondrous, sometimes hilarious and often messy relationship (rain ponchos are passed out to audience members in the first few rows because of splashing paint) between comedy, music and technology, none currently are female.

The North American Tour of Blue Man Group will stop at Wichita’s Century II Concert Hall for four performances this weekend as part of this season’s Theater League Series. Tickets range from $39 to $69.

The show runs about 1¾ hours without an intermission. Afterward, the Blue Men, who never speak but communicate with their eyes, will meet and “greet” audience members in the lobby still in character. To sign autographs, they leave a smear of blue paint, Massey says.

“It makes a nice closure because we don’t do traditional theater. We break the fourth wall all the time to try to connect with the audience.”

Now 29, Massey is a Georgia native who classifies himself as a musician first (drums since age 6), then an actor (since high school), then an athlete because of the grueling physical demands of the show, including drumming away on unique musical instruments made of PVC plumbing pipes in twisty configurations. When he’s in character, he says he doesn’t miss talking.

“You communicate with your eyes, like you do with close friends when you’re across the room from each other. It can be very hard to do. It’s sort of like being an actor in a silent movie. You wear your heart on your sleeve, but you have to do it with finesse,” says Massey, who has performed with permanent troupes in New York, Boston and Orlando, where he maintains a home and where he joins the cast whenever he’s in town during tour breaks.

“To be good, you have to have that ‘it’ factor, that charisma. You have to have something compelling about you that catches people’s attention. I’ve tried to learn from the greats like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers.”

Adds Kops, a native New Yorker whose resume includes “Rock of Ages” on Broadway: “What this show has taught me is how to be part of an ensemble. There is no such thing as ‘the lead.’ And I’ve discovered that it’s still very rewarding. When you do your part, the group stands out.”

College buddies Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton launched Blue Man Group in 1987 as a variety act/comedy skit that revolved around three curious, otherworldly innocents with blue faces who were trying to comprehend the new and very strange world around them. A full-length show called “Tubes” went to Off-Broadway in 1991, winning awards for theater excellence. An album featuring music composed for their weird PVC instruments (inspired by the Brazilian sound pioneered by the band Uakti) was released in 1999. And the first national tour, which satirically deconstructed a rock concert into its cliched parts, followed in 2003.

“The Blue Men are classic outsiders,” Massey says. “The original concept is that they stepped out of a painting and looked around at modern technology and inventions that they didn’t understand but wanted very much to figure out.”

Massey describes them as clueless but sweet, funny, mischievous and sometimes poignant.

“The characters don’t have names. We think of them as ‘right,’ ‘center’ and ‘left’ as they are on stage. Sometimes, we think of them as the Chris role, the Phil role and the Matt role,” says Massey, who has played all the characters at various times. “There are always three because that is the smallest group that can be a subset of more than one. Many of the skits involve one of the three Blue Men doing something in opposition to the other two.”

Massey says that his fellow Blue Men come from various backgrounds, from music (like he does) to the circus to Shakespeare to even one who was a serious scientist with a degree in biology.

“I’m glad he found his real passion,” Massey says.

Surprisingly, musician Kops — a Chapman Stick and string player who studied music with private tutors rather than in school — got a nursing degree and still maintains his license as a registered nurse.

“I burned out on the bureaucracy of dealing with paperwork and arrogant physicians,” Kops says. “But between gigs, I occasionally go back to nursing because I still love caring for people.”

For Massey, the thrill of performance is what he calls “the wild-card factor.”

“When you are playing with an audience, you can never predict what will happen. We bring people on stage or we might go into the audience. It’s like improv — you have to be on your toes constantly. I love that.”

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