By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Resembling an advertisement for vibrant prophylactics, the billboards promoting the Blue Man Group bring to mind either a colorful way to promote birth control or some kind of sadistic cult gone horribly awry. But according to one current member of the performance art attraction, there is something fundamentally philosophical about the group that accounts for its surprising popularity.
"The idea is to get people to remember how innocent they once were and to remember how childlike they still can be," says Matthew Banks, a 32-year-old Canadian who has been a Blue Man for almost eight years.
Speaking from a tour stop in Rochester, Banks actually belongs to a group of 21 guys (all 6 feet tall and weighing around 170) who don skullcaps, cover themselves in blue latex and perform regularly in seven cities across the United States. Mixing magic, stunts, a shitload of cobalt blue paint and five tractor trailers filled with various percussion instruments, what started as a ensemble of street performers in New York City has become the most unlikely of hits, a faux industrial (as in Ministry and Nine Inch Nails) Cirque de Soleil that rakes in a hefty amount of cash while espousing a New Age philosophy, one that somehow unites a mixed demographic of raucous children, introverted techno-nerds and soccer moms.
"I'm shocked at the response," says Banks. "Every night, it's 10,000 people cramming into a venue."
Indeed, at press time, the Dallas show is nearly sold out; and with appearances on Jay Leno and America's Got Talent, the Blue Man Group has become a miraculous experience, a wildly entertaining display of pyrotechnics and acrobatics that defies both criticism and classification.
"The show is an undeniably positive enforcement of humanity," says Banks, who talks about the group with an eerie tone, like some sort of plastic-coated missionary.
"The Blue Man is easy to relate to," Banks says. "He's hopeful and easy to believe in."
Even with the pseudo-religious baggage, the show, which features flying paint, relentless rock music backdrops, massive drumming on PVC pipes and a variety of eye-popping skits involving marshmallows and Cap'n Crunch cereal, is a multimedia event. Corny and not a little bit cultist, this particular attraction provides two hours of guilty pleasure.
"I constantly have the feeling that I can't believe they are paying me to do this," says Banks, who trains in New York at a sort of Blue Man academy, rehearsing new stage gags and staying fit to withstand the rigors of the performance. Sweating profusely under the makeup and costume, Banks (who attended a music/theatre academy in Toronto and played drums in several bands) claims each performance is cathartic.
"The audiences have this euphoric experience that's hard to explain," says Banks, continuing to sound like a New Age guru. "By stripping a person of his hair and ears, the show becomes an open vessel of connectivity."