POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 4, 2013:
Blue Like Men
Ineffable show brings drums, humor, technology
You've seen them in the Intel commercials in their black outfits and bald, surreally blue heads. Maybe you've seen a show, but more than likely, you've only had a small exposure to the Blue Man Group.
That will change for a great many people when Celebrity Attractions brings the percussive, multi-media show to town on September 10-15.
One of the Blue Men taking the stage at the PAC will be Russell Rinker, who admits that telling someone about a Blue Man show isn't exactly like explaining a night at Phantom of the Opera.
"It's funny, because even after all these years, it's kind of a tough thing to describe," Rinker said. "It's like a vibrant, theatrical experience. It's not just a show. It's something that combines music and comedy and technology and social commentary and presents it in a kind of hi-tech, lo-tech, exciting way."
And while Blue Man Group shows through the years have taken several forms and existed in several incarnations, technology and humanity have remained integral parts of all of them. The show headed our way is no different, Rinker said.
"Technology has always been a theme of the show, but a lot of this show talks about how dependent we are on technology with texting and social media," he explained. "We're more connected than ever before, but we're not very connected. We're commenting on that. And that aspect is very exciting part of this tour."
This is the latest in a string of Blue Man Group shows, all of which are geared toward making some sort of comment on our culture, and not just putting neat tech gadgets onstage and cavorting around them.
"It gives people a great experience and a kind of insight into our culture," Rinker said. "We try to stay relevant and reflect the culture. You're kind of compelled by the characters and watching the show, and afterward, you're kind of like, 'Oh, I get it.'"
That's not to say this is a serious, issues-charged show. Not by a long shot.
"I think one thing that people are always so surprised about is that the show is really funny," Rinker said. "People know it's music and think it's circus tricks and don't know what to expect, but there's a universally human aspect to the story arc that sometimes you see people laughing so hard that they're crying. That's one thing I love so much about this -- the comedy writing is so brilliant."
That's saying something, considering that none of the Blue Men ever speak through the course of the show. And that, in turn, makes for interesting interactions, as well.
"We do a meet-and-greet after the show in character," Rinker explained. "We don't talk, but we don't need to. A little nod will express acknowledgement or gratitude. Most of the time, depending on the size of the theater, this is their chance, especially if they were in the back of the theater, to interact with us. It would kind of blow the illusion if we were like, 'Hey, how did you like the show?' They want to meet the character, not the actor. Some people interact with you as if you're an actual alien being, and that's really surreal. But that's my favorite part. You never know how people are going to react. Kids come up and hug you, and that's very rewarding."
But the show itself -- not even taking into consideration the silent, blue heads or the thematic material or even the comedy -- is pretty mind-blowing, especially with this particular incarnation's star piece of technology, which a recent press release referred to as "a proscenium-sized LED curtain and high-resolution screen."
"The back wall of the stage is a huge video screen, and it transforms itself," Rinker said. "It's like a blackout curtain, and then it has video elements, or it's like a 3D animated computer depiction of the synapses firing in your brain and nervous system, and then it's flashing rock and roll lights. The technology of this show is amazing."
While there are quite a few Blue Men running around in the world, what with touring shows and Las Vegas residencies and things like that, there are only three in any given performance.
"We call it 'Three As One,'" Rinker explained. "It's three separate beings, but it's part of one being."
But even with one touring show, you're pressing your luck to just take three Blue Men out on the road for a year. Someone is going to get a stomach bug at some point.
"If you're doing 14, 16, 20 shows a week, the cast has to be bigger than that," he said. "Our tour has four Blue Men, so there's always one guys who's off. There are specific Blue Man roles in the show, and each guy can play two or three roles. So there are a lot of combinations, so that keeps it fresh for us and for the audience. It mixes it up and keeps it fun."
Rinker himself has been a Blue Man off and on for the last decade, leaving the Las Vegas show after five years.
"I left to pursue other things," he said, though he never really left the Blue family. "I moved to LA and worked as a sub, just filling in with the production. The characters are anonymous, so filling in is easy."
He had other, non-Blue work, and a large variety of it.
"I was doing some acting stuff and commercials, and I did a lot of classical theater, so I was doing sword fighting for the opera, and then musicals," Rinker said. "And then there's bartending and day jobs and the typical LA thing."
While he didn't hate it, the chance to take a break from the break looked pretty good.
"The opportunity came to be in the North American tour," he said. "I was looking to get out of LA, so I signed on."
While Rinker did an 80-show stint with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, this is the only big tour he's ever done, and he's really loving it.
"It's really fun," he said, making an entry into the Understatement of the Year contest. "The travel is one of the best parts. People are always excited to see the Blue Man show, and it's fun to have it so well-received, but with the tour, there's almost like a warm, hospitality feeling, like we're guests."
A short conversation with this particular Blue Man reveals a varied artistic background, as Rinker is a multi-instrumentalist, a singer, and an actor. It follows, then, that the Blue Man Group is open to pretty much anyone who is coordinated and can learn things.
"They take actors who have never drummed, professional drummers that have never acted, dancers, all kinds of performers," he said. "It's just such a weird skill set that they can take all kinds. You have to have coordination and a sense of rhythm and be able to pick up the drumming."
Chances are, you probably have to be able to look at the entirety of the show's technological wonderland and not stand there with our jaw hanging slack, too, but that's just a guess.
The Blue Man Group brings its giant screen, tribal rhythms, and six-foot iPhones (yes, that said "six-foot iPhones") to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall September 10-15. Showtimes vary. Tickets available at 918-596-7111 or myticketoffice.com.
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