Playing the blues
Blue Man Group comes to Milwaukee, Madison

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Blue Man Group appears Jan. 3 to 8 at Milwaukee's Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and Jan. 24 to 29 at Madison's Overture Center for the Arts. – Photo: Courtesy

Kirk Massey plans to enter the New Year being very blue, but that's something for which he also is very thankful.

Massey is one of the cerulean-faced performers who occupy stages around the world as part of Blue Man Group, the multimedia three-man theatrical troupe known for its percussive antics and dazzling special effects. The latest iteration of Blue Man, as insiders call it, appears Jan. 3-8 at Milwaukee's Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and then on Jan. 24-29 at Madison's Overture Center for the Arts.

"There has been brand new content written for the tour," says Massey, who has been a Blue Man since 2005. "And most of the classic Blue Man pieces in the show have a new twist to them. If you have only seen our 'Megastar' rock tour, then this will be a very different experience."

But then Blue Man Group itself is a very different experience.

The group was started in 1987 by three performance artists – Chris Wink, Phil Stanton and Matt Goldman – who felt they weren't being sufficiently challenged by the New York performing arts scene. The trio conferred among themselves and with friends about what they would like to see on area stages. The end result was a mime show that infused art, science, music, theater, comedy, vaudeville, rock and dance party antics into one performance – along with a healthy dose of blue grease paint. It's the face paint that gives the group its name and creates both a similarity and anonymity for each of the three actors on stage.

"The makeup is simply a bald cap and blue theatrical grease paint that takes about 30 minutes to apply," says Massey, a Macon, Ga., native who plays a variety of musical instruments. "We do have our own color – Blue Man Blue – which is trademarked and only available to us."

Although group members spoke to audiences early in Blue Man's developmental stages, the performers now stay in character at all times, offering autographs after the show that are simply blue smudges. The face paint and lack of voice can make it challenging to be a Blue Man, Massey explains.

"The only real means we have to tell a story and convey emotion is with our eyes," he says. "We can use our bodies and other physical storytelling techniques, but we can only 'act' with our eyes."

Massey underwent extensive training to learn how to be a Blue Man. He was taught that there are things Blue Men do and don't do, he says.

"You have to learn the 'rules' of being a Blue Man and what drives him," he says. "There are three Blue Men in each show and you have to break down character differences among the three that are based loosely on the three original guys. Finally, each actor brings his own personality to the performance."

Although there are three Blue Men on stage during each performance, the traveling troupe consists of four actors and two swing performers who come in as needed to provide relief during a grueling performance schedule.

Although he never started out thinking he would spend his career covered in blue makeup, Massey is happy to be part of a troupe that performs around the world.

"I always knew my dream was to be a performer in some way, but I could never decide between acting and music," Massey says. "I went to an open casting call in New York seven years ago and found myself training to be a Blue Man. I've signed to do this tour until July, and I have to say that I am enjoying the ride."


On stage

Blue Man Group appears Jan. 3-8 at Milwaukee's Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (www.marcuscenter.org) and Jan. 24-29 at Madison's Overture Center for the Arts (www.overturecenter.com).

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