BLUE MAN GROUPpresented by the Blue Man Group and Clear Channel at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge). In previews now, opens June 19 and runs indefinitely, Tuesday-Thursday 8 pm, Friday-Saturday 7 and 10 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $59. 416-872-1111, www.blueman.com.
I'm sitting with two directors and one of the co-founders of the Blue Man Group, and not one of them is blue in the face. Or red.
This despite the fact that their show, which opens June 19 at the Panasonic Theatre (formerly the New Yorker), is at the centre of a controversy involving three of Toronto's performing arts unions. (See related story, page 24.)
It's dampened their spirits somewhat, but it will take more than a threatened boycott to stop the group that some wags are calling the Cirque du Soleil of the performance art set.
Their influence is wide. They currently have half a dozen shows running, including one in Las Vegas's 1,200-seat Luxor and another in Berlin. Full-time staff scour the globe looking for actors to play the three onstage performers.
And now they're here, hoping for an open-ended run in the theatre gutted and renovated - the show's technical requirements are unique - by producer ClearChannel.
"We've been looking at Toronto since 1994," says co-founder Matt Goldman. "We've got an ambitious plan for an international roll-out over the next 10 years, and we're putting all of our focus and energy into this show as a springboard."
Not bad for a proudly avant-garde act that began in the late 80s as a series of staged events in non-traditional venues.
"It's not like we were street performers," explains BMG artistic director Michael Quinn. "We didn't go to a park with a hat and try to draw crowds. We would go to clubs that were hard to get into and had velvet ropes. We'd bring our own velvet rope and have people come to our area of the sidewalk. Sometimes we'd just go to a bar and sit there alone. People would buy us drinks."
Since then, BMG shows have sent up rock concerts, technology and even themselves. In the subversive TV series Arrested Development, series regular David Cross wants to become a BMG member, living his life covered in blue paint.
"They were great," says Quinn. "They didn't want to do it without our involvement. They adjusted the scripts around what we were comfortable with."
"It gave us an opportunity to really laugh at ourselves, too," adds Marcus Miller, the Ottawa-born director of the Toronto show, who began life in the company as a rigger. "It taught us never to take ourselves too seriously."
And then there are those ubiquitous TV commercials for Intel. The troupe had resisted any sort of product endorsement for years, especially gimmicky concepts that included the colour blue - for instance, blue M&Ms.
"The Intel spots were about innovation, intelligence and fun, and they thought we captured those three things," says Quinn.
"We knew there was no turning back, that some people would only think of us in association with that. So we made some serious demands. We insisted that our name be in the ads. We also wanted to write the spots ourselves with the workers. And we wanted to do the music. I think the ads helped spread the word that the Blue Man isn't an undergound concept. We ended up getting more out of it than they did."
People involved in BMG regularly talk about the Blue Man in the third person, as if he's an entity, a concept.
"I don't think any of us are sure about how the character developed," says Goldman. "But very soon we realized that we were dealing with something that was pretty special, and it was up to us to serve the blue man character. It's been that way from the beginning."
"We try," adds Quinn, "to de-emphasize the actor behind the makeup and emphasize the character. The character's what it's all about. The whole experience is about the character's relationship to the audience. If you spend too much time emphasizing who's playing the role, you lose that mystery."
Why, then, have there been no female Blue Men? And why so few ethnic minorities?
"We need them all to look somewhat similar. Finding anyone, let alone a woman, who's in the range of 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, a drummer and non-verbal actor is tough. If you know any, please send them our way."
To resolve the diversity issue, the troupe's started talking to the casting director of The Lion King, which requires that six performers in each production be from Africa. Their aim is to open up ways to encourage diversity in the audition process.
"We don't think there have been enough ethnic minorities in the show either, " admits Miller. "The spirit of the project is to get beyond race."