Blue Men really can talk.
Never during performance, of course, as they remain true to their mystique as blue-skinned innocents whose curiosity and wonder drive them to explore the world around them in unique and often hilarious ways.
And never while in costume after performances as they greet their fans in character, posing for selfies and offering “autographs” consisting of smears of blue paint on paper.
But get them away from the theater and the Blue Men are pretty chatty as actors in their own right, each furthering his career with a stint in this elite performance-art company that has been a phenomenon for nearly 30 years.
Part of the chattiness is a reaction to being mute on stage for so long at a stretch, says Ethan Golub, who will be in Wichita this week as part of the special Blue Man Group encore offering by Theater League, which first brought them here in 2012.
“In performance, we communicate only with our eyes. It’s interactive and high energy. We break the fourth wall to play with the audience,” says Golub, who majored in percussive musical theory in college and joined the troupe four years ago.
“When you audition to become a Blue Man, they can teach you music and percussion but they can’t teach you that intangible X-factor of actually becoming a Blue Man. That takes a unique set of acting skills,” Golub says. “I see Blue Men as the purest form of the human spirit.”
Despite his New England heritage, Golub has a strong Kansas connection. Like many in his family, he is a graduate of the University of Kansas (Class of 2007).
“I come from a theatrical family. My dad is a theater professor. A lot of my family went to KU, so Kansas has been on my radar all my life. I’m looking forward to coming back with this show,” says Golub, who is now based in Los Angeles.
“The fun for me is the interaction with the audience. Being a Blue Man is a very freeing experience, because we get to use our improv skills. I’m not shy, so I get a real high from it. It’s a different show every night, because it’s a different audience every night,” Golub says.
“Kids are fun because they aren’t embarrassed by what’s ridiculous. They aren’t judgmental. And adults, when you look into their eyes, you see them return to a childlike innocence. I love to be part of that.”
‘They are very relatable’
Blue Man Group was launched in 1987 by college buddies Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton as a variety act/comedy skit that revolved around three curious, otherworldly innocents with blue faces. 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.
A full-length show called “Tubes” went to Off Broadway in 1991, winning an Obie and a Lucille Lortel Award 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. The first national tour, which satirically deconstructed a rock concert into its cliched parts, followed in 2003.
They became so in-demand that there are now 10 Blue Man companies touring the world, each with three main performers and four back-up musicians. They pay tribute to their painterly origin by splashing vivid paint while playing their hodge-podge of drums. Raincoats are passed out to audiences in a “splash zone” in front rows.
Blue Men are classic outsiders as well as classic innocents: clueless but smart and quick to learn, guileless and literal to a hilarious fault. They are sweet, funny, mischievous and sometimes poignant.
“They are very relatable,” Golub says. “I like to say there is a Blue Man in everyone.”
‘How people communicate’
Adam Erdossy, a Massachusetts-educated New Englander with a background in jazz and classical theater, joined the Blue Men 10 years ago as a way to “explore how people communicate.”
“With all our advances in technology, it seems that we are communicating a lot more. But all the texting and tweeting is just surface. We don’t connect in a visceral way. I like to look people in the eye and open up the lines of communication. I get to do that as a Blue Man,” says Erdossy, who has toured with the show to places as far away as Japan and Australia.
“Our show really grabs people. It is a freeing experience. It is more than just ‘screen communication,’” Erdossy says.
The three Blue Men characters don’t have names, although the actors refer to them as “left,” “right” and “center,” but they do have their own, evolving personalities.
“They are each an amalgam of all the elements to being human. They can be like an infant or an adolescent, completely unaware of repercussions. They are inexperienced, but they are intelligent. They learn,” Erdossy says.
And like his two cast mates, Erdossy is adept at switching roles from night to night to keep performances fresh.
“There is a beginning and an end, but there is a fair amount of improv that keeps the show alive for me,” he says.
‘There is no mask’
Getting into costume takes about 45 minutes, involving a skull cap that covers the ears so no paint has to go on them. The blue paint on the face blends into the headpiece.
“There is no mask. There is no additional layer between us and the audience. It is all in the moment.”
So, why are Blue Men blue instead of some other color? Erdossy has some thoughts.
“Blue is part of their mystique. It’s a calming color. That particular bright blue shade was chosen to enhance the energy of the eyes, which are the windows to the soul. And the eyes are key to our performance since we don’t talk.”
Besides, Erdossy jokes, if they were red, people might mistake them for devils. Or if green, they could be leprechauns. And if yellow?
“They might be cousins of ‘The Simpsons,’” Erdossy says with a laugh.