The off the wall antics and odd, but entertaining music style of the Blue Man Group has brought them to be one of the most popular and successful theater groups in the world today. The Blue Man Group came into play in 1987. Creators Matt Goldman, a software producer, Chris Wink, and Phil Stanton, both working as waiters, say the Blue Man Group started as a weekend get together in which they would invite their friends over and talk about art, science, and whatever else interested them. The three saw their home city of New York to be a cultural wasteland. "We heard about this art world thing happening, but you'd go and look, and it was like you were always in the wrong gallery or something. We wanted to shake things up a little bit," said Wink in an interview with People Magazine.
The trio came up with the idea that it would be surprising for people to turn the corner and find themselves staring in the face of a blue man. Initially the group was not getting the reactions they were hoping for, but that would soon change (Blue Man Library, People 92, 2). The group performed regularly in Central Park and in the Wooster Group's Performing Garage. In 1991, the group premiered their first full show," Tubes," at the La MaMa Experimental Theater Club located in New York's lower East Side.
The theater, founded in 1961, had a mission to "develop, support, produce, and present works of any artist" (Laurell). "Tubes" showed many aspects of a theater production, a concert, and a sketch comedy. Blue Man Group caught their first big break in 1991 when they won an OBIE Award, Off-Broadway theater's highest honor. "That was wild" commented Goldman when he and his colleagues were interviewed by People Magazine in 1992. "We didn't write pieces about having stuff spurt out of your chest thinking mass appeal. The first time I saw an actual upright adult see that and not leave the theater, I was really surprised." That year, the Blue Man Group finally moved into their permanent base of operations.
The Astor Place Theater became the Blue Man Group's new home. They performed their hit show eleven times a week to a packed house virtually every night (Blue Man Library, People 92, 3). The Blue Man Group is described on their official website as being "a creative organization dedicated to creating exciting and innovative work in a wide variety of mediums" (Mulford a). To fully understand the Blue Man Group, one must come to understand the Blue Man himself.
The character is dressed in all black and painted a special shade of blue created exclusively for the group but, this is only a very small part of the true Blue Man. The character is very complex. He is part philosopher, part clown, and part teacher. The three blue men take the audience through a journey of complex ideas, concepts, and contradictions of life. One finds out how the Blue Man perceives being human. The blue men have a great amount of positive energy and are very welcoming but, the character does not speak in the way one may think.
The blue men communicate through their eyes and bodily expressions. "The character stands for the human spirit, even though he has the emotional range of Mr. Spock on a particularly self-controlled day" (Richheimer, 2). The character is timid, but passionate. The group worked to create a slightly strange but not frightening character, one that was loveable but not boring." We decided early on that he wouldn't have much facial expression, that he wasn't going to emote. But at the same time it was important that we impart Blue Man's love and spiritual core.
We try to do it through our eyes. The small portals of emotion, and we try to keep the rest of the face impassive" (Richheimer, 2). When asked "Why blue?" , Wink replied," Blue just felt right from the start. But after we started performing, people began pointing things out. We learned about Celtic and African tribes who painted themselves blue and that Yves Klein [ an early practitioner of the happening and precursor of performing arts] actually invented his own shade of blue" (Richheimer, 4). The Blue Man is a very complex character and the goal of this character is to communicate the human experience without saying a word.
He wants to show the value of working together and the "subtle effect of a glance or shrug" (Mulford b). Their hit Off-Broadway show "Tubes" shows many different elements of the Blue Man style. The show has barely changed since its debut in the early 1990's. The show is a mixture of a concert and a comedy.
Parts of the show are skits in which the blue men show their funny and artistic sides and other parts are amazing displays of the group's musical skills. The underlying aim of the show is to bring a better sense of community among the audience. As part of the pre-show, the audience is encouraged to participate in group readings. Phrases are displayed on monitors on the sides of the stage which tell the audience to do such actions as "the Arsine o Hall thing." Also, the audience members are given crepe paper headbands before the show. This begins the bonding process between the theater goers. The show is littered with a variety of different sketches.
Each one displaying another amusing part of the Blue Man mentality. The most memorable and well known of all the sketches is commonly know as the "Marshmallow Skit." In this sketch, one Blue Man is tossing marshmallows into the mouth of another Blue Man. This persists until twenty to thirty marshmallows are caught by the receiver. He then plants his face on a canvas allowing the glob of marshmallows to stick. He slowly pulls his face away allowing the audience to see his artistic creation and then suddenly slaps a $4000. 00 price tag on the canvas.
Another sketch happens simultaneously with the "Marshmallow Skit." This one is called "Spin Art." This time, instead of catching marshmallows, the third Blue Man is catching balls of paint. Once he catches one, he breaks it in his mouth and then spits the contents across a canvas. He does this three to four times until he finishes by copying his fellow Blue Man by putting a price tag on his new piece of art. At a different point in the show, each of the blue men take out a box of Cap'n Crunch Cereal. They each open their box and proceed to eat large handfuls of the breakfast cereal. With each chomp from the blue men, a different "crunch" frequency is played over the speakers.
The group continues to chomp out a musical number until they are all out of cereal. A different sketch, called "Self Portrait," involves a member from the audience. The audience member is put into a white jumpsuit and is rolled around in blue paint. The now paint covered theater goer is then hoisted up by his ankles and it swung into a large canvas to create their own "Self Portrait." The show is littered with many more sketches but, intermixed with them are songs of their own personal creation.
To grasp the music style of the Blue Man Group, one must become aware of the types of instruments the group uses. The Blue Man Group is not the conventional music group. They do incorporate the normal rock and roll instruments, but the majority of the instruments are homemade. There are two major categories that the homemade instruments fall into, pole instruments and PVC instruments. The poles allow the group to utilize the "swoosh" sound of flexible fiberglass rods when swung through the air. The group has a variety of different poles that allow them to produce a wide range of sounds and tempos.
The have poles that are larger at one end which allows fast tempos to be reached, they use short and thin poles to create syncopated rhythms, and they have very long poles, up to eight feet, that create slow and steady sound patterns. The PVC instruments are the Blue Man Group's signature item. The group strikes PVC pipes with foam rubber pads which create unique tones and pitches. Each tone and pitch is determined by the length of the pipe.
The group has four distinct types of PVC instruments. The original PVC instrument, the, the backpack, and the drum bone. The only different between the original PVC instrument and is that the produces a more moderate sound and it is struck with sticks instead of the foam rubber pads. The backpack is the same as the except that it is worn on the backs of the blue men.
Finally, the drum bone is the percussion spin-off of the trombone. It is constructed of three tubes that can be slid back and forth into a number of arrangements. Each of these arrangements allow a different pitch to be reached and very unique combinations to be made (Blue Man Library, Instruments). The success of the Blue Man Group in New York prompted the group to release a soundtrack and expand their show to different venues across the nation. The group's first CD, "Audio," was released in 1999 and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Pop Instrumental Category.
The soundtrack was also certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (Blue Man Group, Audio). During this time, the group opened up shows in Boston, Chicago, and a few years later at the Luxor in Las Vegas. The national success of the group motivated them to release a second CD, "The Complex," but this time the group departed from the normal Blue Man sound. On this album, the group worked with a number of famous vocalists, including Dave Matthews from Dave Matthews Band and Gavin Rosedale from Bush, to create their first complete rock album (Blue Man Group, The Complex).
After the release of their second CD, the group made plans to expand their borders once more, but this time they were going across national borders. The group began planning to open venues in Canada and even Germany (Blue Man Library, Shows). The group's success and popularity continued to climb with their numerous appearances on television. The group was put on late night, prime time, talk shows, and award shows. One of the most visited sets was that of the "Tonight Show" hosted by Jay Leno. Their most recent appearance was on last New Year's Eve to help Jay ring in the new year.
The Blue Man Group received even more air time by participating in the advertising campaign for Intel Centrino in 2000 and 2001. The group worked once again with Intel on a new series of advertisements in 2004 and 2005 (Blue Man Group, Press). The total revenue of the Blue Man Group is staggering. To put it into a smaller perspective, the group performs a total 38 shows per week.
They perform to over 20, 000 people paying $43. 00 to $88. 00 per ticket. A rough estimate shows that about 1. 4 million dollars are driven in by shows alone in one week's time. This does not even factor in all of the other sources of income of the group (Blue Man Library, Fortune 3).
The Blue Man Group has come a long way. From their origins on the streets of New York to their, now, multiple venues across the globe. They have expanded their borders and become one of the most successful and popular Off-Broadway shows to date. Bibliography Blue Man Group. November 2004, 7 Dec. 2004 Blue Man Group.
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