Monday, August 27, 2012

Coloring the World Blue: The History of Blue Man Group

Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink are entrepreneurs who created and oversee a global enterprise that has brought joy to more than 17 million people. They are also innovators, educators, artists, and contemporary comedians, known collectively as the founders and originators of Blue Man Group. That these three bald and blue characters would become a cultural phenomenon – let alone the foundation for a most dynamic and successful artistic organization – is an idea that was all but unimaginable when these inscrutable beings first emerged, walking the streets of New York.

“We weren’t really goal-oriented,” says Stanton. “When we started walking around the city, we did it because we wanted to see how people reacted. And being bald and blue was our social life. We didn’t want to go to bars and be part of a singles scene, a drinking scene. We wanted our social life to be somehow creative, and this was a lot of fun. We knew we would eventually do some kind of performance, but we never envisioned a commercial theater run.”
Photo Credit: (c)Paul Kolnik
Blue Man Group’s wildly popular, always evolving theater piece has been a mainstay in New York, Boston and Chicago for years. Now touring the country for the first time, there are also productions in Las Vegas and Orlando, and there are or have been productions in Tokyo and numerous European cities.

The show is an absurd and wondrous blend of music, painting, science and technology, as the Blue Men silently engage in a variety of set pieces that run the gamut from primitive and childlike to witty and sophisticated. And the character has been the springboard for numerous additional ventures, including a rock tour, a museum exhibition, a 3D movie and a school.

“It’s all about creativity and innovation,” says Puck Quinn, creative director of character development and appearances. “If someone asks, ‘What does Blue Man Group do?,’ my answer is simple: ‘We innovate.’”

Everything begins with the Blue Man, and although he’s been around for more than two decades, his founders still can’t entirely explain where he came from. Like the character himself, his origin is enigmatic.

“There really isn’t an explanation,” says Goldman. “Chris dug up a picture that he drew when he was five years old, and it had three blue men in it. And I had a thing in my wallet for years with a blue tribe in South America. I don’t know why it was there; I never put pictures in my wallet. We think the Blue Man has always been here. The best answer is that we found each other.”

The impulse for going bald and blue emerged, in part, when the three longtime friends observed a clash of cultures on a New York sidewalk that no one else noticed.

“We saw three punk rockers – giant Mohawks, safety pins in the cheekbone area, leather and chains – walk between three other gentlemen who were dressed in Armani suits and carrying alligator briefcases,” says Goldman. “These six guys didn’t even blink, and the people around them didn’t even blink. And we turned to each other and said, ‘If that scene didn’t even get one iota of consciousness put to it, what human imagery possibly could?'”

Eventually, an image began to emerge.

“We thought, ‘What would surprise people?'” says Stanton. “‘What’s going to catch someone’s eye and make them think?’ We thought that if we created a bald and blue character, that image would have the ability to surprise and spark some thought for a long time.”
Goldman adds, “The first time we got bald and blue, we knew instantly it was something very special. And it was so freeing, because it wasn’t us. Our own egos were gone.”

Eager to see an end to the 1980s, they carried around a coffin and staged a “Funeral for the ’80s” in Central Park – two years before the decade ended.

“We also walked around the streets or into bars; we were really interested in being a little provocative,” Goldman said.

The traits of the Blue Man developed gradually.

“There was something about him that seemed timeless, and something that seemed a little bit futuristic,” says Stanton. “He seemed to have the ability to be beautiful and comic at the same time. I’m not even sure we thought about that at first. It was really intuitive. We were trying to create a character that somehow represented humanity, but was able to be outside of humanity and look at it at the same time. We wanted to make a statement about community, about the power of a group, as opposed to the American individualist mentality. We thought the character would express community through something tribal, and drumming seemed the way to go. Chris had trained as a drummer, and I was from a really musical background. We wanted to draw from our own interests and backgrounds, and bring them into some kind of performance. We wanted to express something about the process, or the impulse to create.”

They built drums and instruments made of polyvinyl chloride – or PVC – pipes. They caught thrown objects with their mouths, and learned how to make things squirt out of their chests. Not all their experiments were successful. “We tried these hats that had tape recorders in them,” says Goldman. “They were called ‘Read Your Mind’ hats.” An acquaintance complimented them for their bravery.
They continued to develop material for three years, performing in downtown clubs and event spaces.

“We wanted to do work that had never been seen onstage before,” says Goldman.

Their shows were fresh and funny, exhilarating and experimental, but they were uncertain how long they could continue; they often paid out more than they took in on a gig. But in 1991, they were invited to perform at La MaMa, the prestigious off-off-Broadway theater. The show created a buzz, and that summer Blue Man Group took part in Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun Festival. In the fall they moved off-Broadway to the Astor Place Theater, where they remain to this day.

Two decades later, Goldman, Stanton and Wink are still tinkering with, refining, and updating the show. Each additional production, including the tour, provides an opportunity for new material, and even the New York show is refreshed from time to time.

“Sometimes we just see something that we think is really cool, and we’ll try and see how we can make it theatrical,” says Stanton.

The success of the show has enabled Blue Man Group’s founders to do what they most enjoy: innovate, create, and inspire. Among their many enterprises are CDs and DVDs; toy development; and the Megastar World Tour, their take on what a rock concert should be.

“It plays around with all the trappings of the big arena concert,” says Quinn, “All the things we do that we don’t even think about – waving your hands in the air and bopping your head and dancing in your seat. We’re poking fun at all those little actions. But at the same time, we’re trying to put on the best rock concert there is, with all the stuff we want to see.”

A 3-D movie, scheduled to premiere in 2011, is a 3-D live-action comedy, in which the Blue Men journey through the human brain.

“We avoided the movie genre for years, because we’re live performers,” says Quinn. “But 3-D movies are really interesting to us. We’re about visceral experiences, about breaking the fourth wall and reaching across the plane and touching people. That’s what we want to do with this film.”

With the Boston Children’s Museum and JBL they developed an interactive exhibition called "Making Waves," which is touring the country.

“We wanted to create something that would be as close to letting kids up onstage as possible,” says Quinn. “What we’re really doing is discussing sound waves, and how sound works. The exhibition deals primarily with sound and music.”
Perhaps their most ambitious and far-reaching endeavor is the Blue School, a charter school for children ages 2 to 7.

“Several things went into starting a school,” says Stanton. “There was the fact that we were having children, and we wanted to create a great place for them to learn. We see a real need to change education to include things like our relationships and our emotional life, and understanding how the brain works. We want to be part of the national and international dialogue. From the very beginning, there’s been an education element in our theatrical show. We’ve tried to find ways to make science theatrical. And I think that if you look at the Blue Man character, there’s a nice continuity there. The Blue Man is a learner. He’s always trying to figure something out, or to learn something about us, or about technology. He’s always trying to express something about the creative impulse. And that’s what the goals of the school are: to help create healthy and strong relationships and community, to help us to continue to be excited and have fun learning, to bring creativity to everything. And we’re not just talking about painting and music and the lively arts. We’re talking about business. We’re living in a world where we have to educate people very differently than we have in the past.”

Blue Man Productions, the parent company that oversees all projects, employs several hundred people around the world. Goldman, Stanton, Wink and their staff pay the same attention to the details of their business as they do to the details of their art.

“From the beginning, we valued what went on offstage as much as what went on onstage,” says Stanton. “It’s important to us how people are treated. The creativity that goes into what happens offstage is viewed as part of what ends up onstage. We never separate the two. We always wanted to own our own show, and live with the decisions that we made, rather than hand all of that off to somebody else. We want to be responsible for what happens, and we wanted to make sure it was a life-long journey.”

Blue Man Group will be making the fall more colorful that usual at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center October 9-14, and tickets are on sale now. For details, visit today!

(c) 2010 Blue Man Group

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Video: MAMMA MIA! Community Flash Mob

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Fox Cities Performing Arts Centers 10th Anniversary Open House last weekend to celebrate the Centers first decade of performances and kick off the 10th Anniversary Season with live entertainment from local arts groups, backstage tours, theater workshops and activities for all ages. 

On Friday, Appleton's Mayor Tim Hanna proclaimed it Fox Cities P.A.C. Day before a Founders Panel Discussion detailing how the dream of the Fox Cities P.A.C. became a reality. On Saturday, guests participated in a MAMMA MIA! Community Flash Mob choreographed by Richards School of the Dance. 

Based on the popularity of the MAMMA MIA! Community Flash Mob at the Open House, organizers are planning an encore prior to the Friday, August 24 performance of MAMMA MIA! Ticket holders should arrive by 6:45 p.m. to watch or participate in the flash mob. For detailed instruction, Visit to learn the steps!

MAMMA MIA! will be at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center August 21-26. Tickets for MAMMA MIA! start at $54 and are on sale now. Tickets may be purchased at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s ticket office and online at To charge tickets by phone, call Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New Hearing Loop Breaks Down Barriers to the Arts

At an evening ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center unveiled a newly installed telecoil, or T-coil, compatible hearing loop in Thrivent Financial Hall, making it the first Broadway presenting theater in Wisconsin to offer the latest hearing loop technology. 

A group of donors and accessibility advocates attended the event which offered the Center an opportunity to celebrate this latest improvement. Susan Stockton, president of the Fox Cities P.A.C., expressed appreciation for a surge of local support saying, The Centers accessibility services committee identified a need for a T-coil hearing loop, but it took a community effort for this project to take shape. So many local hearing care professionals have supported this initiative. I continue to be amazed by the generous support of our community, and we are thrilled to have this service available for the Centers 10th Anniversary Season.”

So what does a new hearing loop mean for theatergoers with hearing loss? T-coil compatible hearing loops work with an individuals hearing aids to create a fuller live performance experience.

“Imagine going to the theater and not being able to understand the dialogue, said Dr. Juliëtte Sterkens, a local audiologist with Fox Valley Hearing Center, Inc. and the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) hearing loop advocate. Sterkens has been involved with the Centers accessibility committee since 2009 and played a key role in raising awareness of the T-coil hearing loop system and its potential to aid theatergoers with hearing loss. 

A common misconception," said Sterkens, "is that hearing aids restore normal hearing. Yes, hearing aids have greatly improved in the last decade, but they simply cannot overcome typical distances involved in theaters such as the Fox Cities P.A.C.” Sterkens explained that often, with hearing aids alone, sound becomes unclear in larger venues where speakers may be placed at a distance or the surroundings are noisy.

On Friday, August 17 and Saturday, August 18, the public is invited to test the Centers new T-coil compatible hearing loop during a free 10th Anniversary Open House. The Center will offer a presentation on Friday at 4:00 p.m. in the Kimberly-Clark Theater which is also fitted with a T-coil compatible hearing loop. Festivities will include live entertainment, backstage tours, theater workshops and activities for all ages. A full schedule of events, including a Founders Panel discussion on Friday in Thrivent Financial Hall and a MAMMA MIA! Community Flash Mob on Saturday, can be found at

The new T-coil hearing loop replaces the Centers infrared listening system.Visitors in need of hearing assistance or whose hearing instruments are not T-coil equipped may check out complimentary lightweight headsets for hearing amplification at the Centers  information desk. Ticket agents are also available to answer questions about the Centers hearing loop during regular business hours, in person at the Centers ticket office or by phone at (920) 730-3760.

To learn more about the Center's new T-coil compatible hearing loop and other accessibility services, visit

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

All About ABBA

Before there was MAMMA MIA!, there was ABBA.

On Saturday, April 6, 1974, in the English coastal town of Brighton, a group known in their native Sweden but unknown to the rest of the world, won the Eurovision Song Contest with a song entitled “Waterloo.” ABBA had arrived and the rest is not merely history but the stuff of legend. To date, ABBA has sold over 350 million records and remains the world’s second biggest selling band of all time, surpassed only by The Beatles.

Following their Eurovision triumph, Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (the initials of their first names made the name ABBA) were catapulted onto the world stage. “Waterloo” topped pop charts all around the globe. Over the next eight years, ABBA would achieve countless hit singles, platinum albums, sell-out concert tours and even a hit movie, "ABBA - The Movie."

The group’s chart domination of Europe was unequivocal – with only the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and The Beatles  achieving longer runs of top ten singles in the U.K. at the time. In Ireland, 13 songs reached number one while  in Belgium there were seven consecutive number one singles (overall 16 singles reached number one) and seven consecutive number one albums. Across Scandanavia, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria the statiscis remain mindboggling.  Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the American hits continued as 10 songs made the Top Twenty, with “Waterloo,” “Take a Chance On Me” and “The Winner Takes It All” making the Top Ten. “Dancing Queen” took ABBA to number one on the Billboard charts.

A truly global success, “Dancing Queen” was also number one in twelve other countries. But Europe and North America were not the only continents to experience ‘ABBAmania’ - there were six consecutive number one singles in Australia and four number one albums. “The Best of ABBA” remains, to this day, the country’s highest selling music album. ABBA’s Melbourne concerts were legendary. There were six number ones in New Zealand with a further twelve singles reaching the Top Twenty. In Mexico, the group scored eleven Top Ten hit singles, with seven reaching number one, and six number one albums; and in Zimbabwe there were thirteen Top Ten singles and no less than eight consecutive number one albums (excluding the compilations still on general release!). In Japan, fourteen singles made the ‘All Japan Pop 20’ with “Summer Night City,” “Chiquitita,” “Voulez-Vous” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” all reaching number one. 

But by 1982, it was all over. Plans for another new album were abandoned and “The Singles – The First Ten Years” released in its place. The year ended with the release of the single “Under Attack” which was the last for the group. Yet despite the fact that ABBA ceased to record or tour together, their music continued to entertain, to enthrall, and to inspire. ABBA is very much a continuing success story. The countless hits have transcended time to remain as popular today as they were when first released, in some cases more so. “ABBA Gold” remains a best-selling album worldwide.

The movies “Muriel’s Wedding” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” both featured ABBA’s music and won the group whole new generations of fans. The opening of MAMMA MIA! has not only seen theatergoers dancing in the aisles - reliving memories or discovering the ABBA sound for the first time – but has also seen “ABBA Gold” back in album charts everywhere the show has played. With at least 3,500 records still being sold every day around the world, the ABBA phenomenon is seemingly unstoppable.

MAMMA MIA! will play the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton, Wisconsin August 21-26, 2012. Tickets are on sale now at!

Source: Mamma Mia!