Blue Man Group Is Here In Hollywood, So We Can All Figure Out What Exactly They Are
Blue Man Group has captured the imaginations of everyone from Vegas vacationers to Arrested Development fans, but for the first time ever, they're doing an extended run in L.A. For the next two weeks, you'll find them at the Pantages, bringing their trademark weirdness and Stomp-from-outer-space vibes. (And you can win free tickets in the Pantages' digital lottery.)
Their new tour, Speechless, is a departure from the Blue man Group show model. In the past, the premise of their shows typically revolved around the arrival of the audience summoning the group, but Speechless takes you inside Blue Man Group's workshop.
See Blue Man Group taking over the Pantages and the surrounding neighborhood in this video promoting their Hollywood tour stop:
WHAT... IS IT/ARE THEY?
It's performance art. And as is often the case with performance art, it isn't the easiest to explain. The group's creative director Jon Knight quoted his own mother's attempts to explain it:
"When she first saw the show many years ago, she'd go home to my hometown and say, 'Well, it's not really a play, and it's not really a concert -- I don't know, you just sort of have to see it.'"
To get more specific, the show is built around music, communication, and looking at humanity from the outside perspective of the Blue Man, according to Knight. There's humor, along with something deeper that they hope makes you feel closer to the people around you.
But you don't need to know anything going in to enjoy the show.
The Blue Man character (who travels in groups of threes) communicates through music, movement, and a mastery of the light and technology around him, Knight said.
"The meaning of what's being said in these situations really comes alive somewhere between what the audience brings to it, and what we present on stage -- and that's, I think, where the magic is," Bill Swartz said. He's the Blue Man Group's creative director for technology and effects.
That communication is built throughout the show, as audiences settle into the world.
Knight described the Blue Man character as an everyperson, revealing what's funny, poignant, and/or absurd about the human experience.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE SPEECHLESS TOUR
Knight works with a team of writers to write the material in the show, sequence it, and develop the overarching big ideas. The tour's name comes from the idea that we all have experiences that we can't quite describe.
"We're hoping that people find that in a number of ways throughout the show," Knight said, "whether that be through just the beauty of what they're seeing, a connection that they might feel both with the character but hopefully with each other -- that's a big part of our show, fostering a connection."
Blue Man Group has played Los Angeles shows before, including at the Hollywood Bowl, but bringing the touring experience here for a longer stay means a different kind of experience.
You can watch them explore the city more in their new music video:
Another of the big differences with this tour is a greater incorporation of the personalities of each Blue Man actor, according to Swartz. Casting the show before it's fully created lets them craft the narrative and the scenes to fit the quirks of the individual performers.
"The Blue Man on the left is making the choices that that guy, Mike Brown, would be making," Swartz said. "Not like there's just three guys, and they're all blue, and they all just do the same thing."
The show is one of their most original outings to date, according to Knight, filled with a high percentage of brand new material. That includes new music and even new PVC instruments, while continuing in the tribal musical style the group is known for.
CREATING BRAND NEW MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Swartz designed the musical instruments used in the show, along with some of the electrical and mechanical effects that happen on stage.
"Making a musical instrument is a strange thing to do," Swartz said. That's because there've been really good instruments for hundreds of years, which we've already figured out, according to Swartz. "There's a reason why people are still playing electric guitars and pianos -- these are really, really good ways for human beings to express themselves. So sometimes it's hard to find a way where this special character would have something unique to say with those instruments."
The team took a couple different approaches to create something brand new, letting Blue Man Group express themselves in a unique way. One was to create what Swartz described as big mechanical noisemakers with a lot of musicality to them, with music specifically composed for those instruments and which the Blue Men have mastered.
The other way was utilizing computers in the instrumentation, with complicated, varied ways of interfacing with the instruments. The whole set is integrated, according to Swartz. Different instruments are plugged into each other, giving the workshop the feeling that it's a living thing.
One of those new instruments gets used in what Swartz said he felt was the best moment in Speechless. It involves the instrument being played by three Blue Men in harmony, in what Swartz described as a beautiful light with nothing else happening on stage.
"It's just beautiful, it's awesome -- and it's basically why I do this," Swartz said. "I like to just show up at work with a blank slate, and my own brain, to bring it and see what can happen. And if that is what the workday is like, and that's how you make things, then it's really hard to get bored."
SHARING BIG IDEAS AND MAKING CONNECTIONS
Swartz is part of the team that wrote pieces for the show, giving raw ideas to Knight, who crafted them into the narrative and artistic vision for the show.
"We're all constantly commenting on other people's things, and trying to make something out of nothing," Swartz said, "and that requires a lot of time and a lot of iteration."
Tour director Jenny Koons comes from the world of immersive theater. New to the Blue Man Group world, she saw opportunities to stretch the Blue Man character into new territories, Knight said, including bringing her experience with immersion and audience interaction.
Swartz said it's fun to see when someone new to Blue Man, like Koons, eventually gets what the show is all about.
"When that happens, you realize that there's something powerful there," Swartz said.
Blue Man Group has evolved a lot over the years, according to Knight, going between periods of careful definition of the character to those that embrace more of a looseness. Through it all, Knight said that it's his job to protect the integrity of the character.
On a larger scale, the world's also changed around the show, which continues to be updated to reflect the times. Swartz said that the pieces they make for the show respond to social changes and the environment we all live in, combining that with contemporary music -- and an ambivalence toward technology.
"A big part of our evolution has been seeing the themes that we have embraced, in terms of storytelling and how our character approaches the world, grow and evolve as technology changes and as communications methods change," Knight said.
One of the themes the show has explored over the years is how people are either isolated or connected through technology. Your chance to get connected starts this Tuesday night, with Blue Man Group's Speechless tour running through Sunday, Oct. 6. Their official opening night is this Thursday.