By BRUCE DENNILL
Blue Man Group was founded by three close friends Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton in New York in 1991. Since the group’s inception it has grown to include permanent shows in Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Boston, Chicago and Berlin, as well as a North American Tour and a World Tour. Beyond the stage show, Blue Man Group has toured the globe with the Megastar World Tour rock concert parody, produced multiple albums, including the Grammy-nominated Audio, and the recently released Three. They also published their first book, Blue Man World, in October this year.
Phil Stanton checked in ahead of the act’s first tour of South Africa (Johannesburg from 7 February to 5 March and Cape Town from 21 to 26 March; tickets from bigconcerts.computicket.com).
The ‘Green Man’ is a well-known folklore figure; a kind of pagan deity. When the ‘Blue Man’ is seen in popular culture, it’s usually as an alien or something a little more removed. But you’ve given this character his name partly because it rhymes with ‘human’. Is that connection harder to maintain now that the show is franchised and it’s not only you, Matt and Chris – the founding members – playing the role? Is he more of a philosophy or a metaphor now?
That’s a fascinating thought – and true. I see him as a character, but he is a conceptual idea. He has more in common with a cartoon character like Bugs Bunny than a human. For instance, he has multiple origin stories and can be a vaudevillian performer or a world traveller in the same day. And as with Bugs, you’re always aware of the artist behind the character, or in our case, of the technology that supports the character.
Blue Man is fictional, but he’s also a real person. He has something in common with all humanity. At the beginning, we thought it would only ever be the three of us playing him. We only realised that others should play him after I injured myself and couldn’t perform in 1994. That was a good insight, as he doesn’t only speak to an American perspective – he can connect in situations around the world.
The fact that it’s a show that started in New York gives it a certain cachet – some people want to see it because of that – but if we were lucky enough to be able to write a show in South Africa, we’d like to look at that culture and how Blue Man would engage with it.
You also have an awareness of – and ways of responding to – unexpected reactions to the show, such as its resonance with autistic people. You adapt performances for certain audiences, toning down the lighting, slowing down the action and such. That seems like the sort of effort other productions should put in, but don’t …
I think we have a responsibility as artist and business people. When we realised this could impact people’s lives, we felt we had to adapt it. They’re not huge changes – bringing the decibels and the lights down and so on. But the reaction to that sort of thing is humbling, and I think all shows try to do what they can.