Interview - Phil Stanton - Blue Man Group

Interview: Phil Stanton - Blue Man Group creator


Blue Man Group official website (Australia) Blue Man Group official website


Music Entertainment The Star Lyric Theatre

You are now on tour in Australia. How do you rate Australian audiences, as well as Australia from what you have seen so far?

I'm so happy to FINALLY visit some of Australia. There are so many ways to have great experiences here. For instance, it seems your cities found ways early on in planning to enjoy your waterways—something we in the US are struggle to do. One surprise is the food! So many restaurants at a very high level! As is the case with the many Aussie friends I've had over the years in NY, there is a sense of friendliness and fun everywhere, and a great positive mix of rebelliousness and positively—and the audiences certainly reflect that! They have been very bit as enthusiastic, if not more so, than our American audiences. They seem to show up expecting to have a great experience.

You started the Blue Man Group back in 1988. What's the main things that have changed on both a creative and business level since then?

When we first began, my partners Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and I played the role of the Blue Man in every performance, we played over 1500 shows with no break and no understudies. It was an invaluable time for us to really live in the character, get to know who he is and how he would interact with the world in various scenarios, but it didn't leave much time for anything else. Soon we learned what is obvious; that the very concept of the Blue Man, a sort of "everyman," should be inhabited by others. So these days, we have well trained actor/musicians who play the role every night, which frees us up to spend our energy training new Blue Men, directing the shows and projects, writing new material, and of course, running the business.

What's the biggest and smallest audience the group has ever played to?

This is a tough question because I can assure you, in the very early years, the audiences were small, VERY small. But, since we opened at the Astor Place Theatre in NYC, which has 300 seats, it remains the smallest venue we perform in on a regular basis. And then when we had the Blue Man Group Megastar World Tour going on, we played to arenas of 10 to 12 thousand people. That was incredible. We also do collaborations and performances of all kinds, in different places, such as opening at the Super Bowl or performing in Carnivale in Brazil. I couldn't even guess how many people were in attendance. Safe to say the number varies greatly depending on the project.

When did you first realise you were really onto something as far as The Blue Man Group being able to be a sustainable group that would be able to tour the United States, and eventually lead to world tours?

It took quite a while really. For a long time we were just working hard and having fun, and really didn’t have any idea where it would lead. I thought we'd probably run off-Broadway at the Astor Place Theatre for a few months, and then tour festivals and universities if we were lucky. Then some "word of mouth" started kicking in that there was something unique happening downtown, and we were fortunate to get the call to be on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Regis and Kathy Lee, and the show started selling out every night! I think it was at that point that we started to wonder if maybe we were on to something bigger. Still, none of it was overnight, that is for sure! We took small steps and never rally looked to far into the future. There was no long-range business plan for sure! We slowly opened shows around the US, taking our time and trying to do things right so that the show would have longevity. We didn't want to be a flash in the pan. We turned down more offers than we accepted, just to be sure we able to make thoughtful decisions, maintain the quality of our shows, and develop new material as we went along.

If someone says, in one or two sentences, what sort of entertainment does The Blueman Group do, what do you tell them?

It's a multi-media, multi-sensory euphoric celebration for all ages and all walks of life. There is something for everyone.

What does the blue face paint represent?

For us, the Blue Man character represents a child-like, primal being —an "everyman" as I said. The Blue Man has elements we all posses. He is at once an innocent as well as very heroic. He is a scientist as well as being somewhat shamanic. He's also quite a trickster while being a great group member. It's these six attributes which at times seem to be at odds that produce interesting behavior in the Blue Man. I would also say we imagine him to be the true self, without any pretense or social masks. So, for us, putting on the blue make up is a ritual of taking off the masks we wear in order to succeed in day to day society, and revealing the true joyful self underneath.

How does the Star Lyric Theatre rate as a venue compared other venues as far as technically, atmosphere, and publicity?

Its great! Its a beautiful theatre in a beautiful city with incredible audiences. It has great acoustics, which are very important to us. And it has that "X factor" you can't define—it just has a great vibe. We would be thrilled to play here for a long time!

What's your main secret to connecting to the audience?

The beauty of it is that if we trust the character, and having no "fourth wall", we allow ourselves to truly be present and "in-the-moment" with the audience, and are vulnerable and very alive in the theatre, people tend to see themselves in him, they relate to him through the emotion he expresses with music, color and even his non-verbal humor.

Who came up with the idea of raincoats for some audience members?

I don't remember where the idea came from exactly, but it was one of those beautiful ideas that served two purposes -- of course, on a practical level, it helped to make sure that our patrons didn't leave with stains on their clothing, but it also helped to generate excitement in the theatre. When you hear the rustling of the ponchos, and people squirming in their seats, you know something exciting is about to happen, and we love to live in that beautiful moment of anticipation.

What's the audition process like to join The Blue Man Group, and what percentage of applicants make the cut?

We have a full time casting team that searches the globe for potential Blue Men -- literally. Those who think they have the skill set can send their information in to Blue Man Productions and possibly get an audition, but it is a challenging process, for sure. We are looking for men or women who are 5'10 - 6'1, who are trained actors, and preferably drummers as well. (However, we have sometimes taught people to drum, if they couldn't already). Only a few people out of every 100 applicants make the cut, but for those who do, its an incredible opportunity to bring joy to many people nightly.

How often do you include topical news events into your shows?

It varies. We are constantly writing new pieces and bits for the shows, but it tends to be targeted at things that truly affect who we are and how we live rather than chase current events. We see the Blue Man as pre-political, so we tend to stay away from politics for the most part. Sometimes we'll add a few minutes worth of new material to the show, other times, we'll add large sections of half an hour or more to the show. It really depends on how fast the world is changing, if we feel inspired to make a comment on the new state of our culture.

What's the biggest misconception about the group?

Funny, I still get questions from people who think there are only 3 Blue Men in the world. They haven't quite done the math, I think, to realize that we can't possibly be in all these cities at the same time. Of course, there is only one Blue Man Group, and all of our shows and Blue Men originate from this group, but there are many actors who now play the role in various cities around the globe.

What would the Blue Man Group like to be remembered for?

Well…if we are remembered for bringing some laughter and hopefully a little group euphoria to a number of people for a while that'll be awesome. But a few times a show you get that person who speaks of being truly inspired to find some new creativity in their lives, and maybe go take some risks they would not have taken. I don't know what you call that, but I'd love to be remembered for b ringing a little of that to people.

What's your motto?

Well, there have been so many inspirations for us throughout the history of Blue Man Group, but the one that guided us from the beginning is Joseph Campbell's "FOLLOW YOUR BLISS". You can not predict what will happen if you live by that!


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