We sat down with Blue Man (and human) Matthew Banks to chat about what's in that paint, how Blue Men aren't necessarily men at all, and what exactly vomitous-screaming entails.
How does one become part of Blue Man Group?
In a word, audition. We have a casting department that is always looking for actors to play the Blue Man character. Our 70-odd (no pun intended) Blue Men are from North America, South America, and Europe. We look for any gender performer who fits the 5’10”– 6’1” with an athletic build type, plus, drummer and/or actor. Once you get through casting, there’s training at our headquarters in New York, which can be up to 8 weeks long. Eventually you’d get placed in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, Berlin or even a couple of global or national tours.
You’ve been there since the early days – how has your role changed creatively?
I was immediately smitten with the whole movement of Blue Man Group. When I auditioned back in 1998 it was still pretty un-known, save for the real theater goers of the respective companies at the time (New York, Boston, Chicago). My excitement and passion for the project was always at the forefront of my interactions with the original creators and their inner circle of co-directors. I basically idolized them. What started out as “Hey check out this song I wrote for the PVC pipes!” or “wouldn’t it be cool if the Blue Men did this…?!” eventually turned into an invitation to officially write scenarios and compose music for the company. The character is infinitely complex and so writing for the character has always sparked my curiosity, now approaching 21 years in.
Why Blue? Was The Green Group taken?
Ha! That question is usually coupled with “why no ears?!” as well. The short answer is that it was an intuitive decision/feeling that the three founders put forward. Though there is a folklore anecdote about Chris Wink (founder) having shown an art project from his second grade days which was a drawing of a whole bunch of blue people, titled: My Blue World.
The makeup is a unique Blue Man blue hue however in a very basic grease paint formula. The special thing that happens upon application is that all physical facial features of the performer are stripped away leaving their eyes as the only real focal point. As the eyes are often seen as the window to the soul, people find the Blue Man character to be quite open and intriguing after they’ve worked through there “what the heck is this guy all about?!” phase.
Do Blue Men have names?
Currently they are known as Left, Center and Right. Though they were originally named after the respective founders who originated each of their own roles: Chris (Wink), Matt (Goldman) and Phil (Stanton). Sometimes during internal Blue Man workshops we give each others’ Blue Men unique names reflective of a general first impression that we might see in each other, i.e.: Meany-McSimmons, Dorothy, Lucy, Eagle-Boy, Grumpy-want-a-Cracker; mostly to make us laugh but also used as a way in, to break down performance habits so that we can rebuild into a new more pure state. There’s an endless quest to deepen one’s Blue Man character.
Photo Cred: Lindsay Best
The times are changing. What about a Blue Woman Group?
Bob Dylan would agree. What people don’t get right away, if at all, is that the Blue Man character is genderless. The ‘Blue Man’ is akin to ‘human’. We’ve had women play the Blue Man character in the past and in fact some of the original ‘Blue Men’ from the early days of conception and experimentation in the streets of New York City were women. The character and company have been able to expand in massive part do to the women that have, and currently work for Blue Man Group. We’re always looking for women or men to play the role. Come on out!
How do you actually put on one of these shows? How has it changed over the years?
I’ve always loved bows at the end of our show because the Blue Men stand there with the band and then turn to welcome on the crew to take a bow and there’s just as many, if not more crew, running the show than the Blue Men and band combined. The first time I saw that I remember thinking, how special it is to recognize these usually unseen people.
It takes a lot of people to make up our community, not to mention the added personnel to load in, create, and tech a new show.
One thing about Blue Man Group is that we are essentially a cultural landscape reflector. So as society’s cultural landscape changes, so does the Blue Man show.
Photo Cred: Lindsay Best
What keeps you going after years of doing this? Assuming it’s not the blue paint...
The people, and the Blue Man character. When it comes to the character development, I’m still going deeper and deeper. “What would Blue Man do?” is somewhat of a mantra for the casts of Blue Men. We’re always being challenged to unfold and explore the depth of this endlessly innocent, brave, curious, child-like scientist. It’s a wonderful thing to walk into the audience and watch someone turn from freaked out to empathetically curious and disarmed. Though the show rocks out hard and is absolutely hilarious there are personal pivotal moments audience members can stumble upon too.
I spend most of my time at work laughing my head off or having my mind blown by some new music or art that people are always sharing or creating themselves. It is a space churning with inspiration and impassioned people.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened during a show?
Have you ever heard of vomitous-screaming? Luckily it doesn’t involve actual vomit but rather just the screaming; in an omnipresent volume with nonstop outbursts over the tiniest of movements. A lady we had brought up on stage to interact with us lost the ability to do anything but scream. It was hilarious to the audience and to us as we generally try to find people who are both shy and excited in order to get a somewhat of a ‘plays well with others vibe,’ but this lady took it to another level.
What do you do on the side for fun? We heard something about Billy Joel?
Though I act and play percussive instruments for Blue Man Group, my original immersion into the arts was the piano. I started with classical at an early age and into my teens realized singing in addition to playing piano was super satisfying. I’ve recorded and published original music and am grateful for Billy Joel’s songs as they got me singing in the first place. Eight ears ago I was introduced to an Elton John tribute artist who wanted to team up and perform a Tribute To Sir Elton John and Billy Joel show. I found out just before our first show that I was supposed to dress up (!?!) like Billy Joel as well; featuring costumes from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I was a little resistant to dress-up at first but I jumped in full tilt and it’s been a blast ever since; performing all over the world in yet another disguise.