As Apple launched its iPad 2 in San Francisco, Blue Man Group unveiled its GiPad in Boston. Steve Jobs is not longer with us but he apparently did not think about suing.
At the start, three GiPads – eight-by-five-foot electronic screens that resemble iPads – descended from the rafters at the Charles Playhouse, The three black-clad men in cobalt blue body-paint and skullcaps looked at them with curiosity.
Blue Man Group – which has been up at the Charles since 1995 – presented a 45-minute press performance, showcasing new or retooled material in their 105-minute show.
The gigantic faux iPads made perfect sense. Blue Man Group has always done a lot with technology and communication. We live in an age of information overload and are awash in smart phones, tablets and apps. And so now are the Men.
After the GiPads were lowered, the quizzical Blue Men touched the screens. A GiPad announced it would “do for reading what texting has done for driving.” It was time for “Synopsize Me!” (or “Twit Lit”) with Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Twain and Melville rendered in Twitter-ese.
“Moby-Dick” in `140 characters: “Where is that damn whale? Here whaley whaley! There he is! I think I’ve got him! Actually, no I don’t That’s off: He’s coming towards the ship! I’ve got a bad feeling about”
There was also on-screen give and take about texting and face-to-face communication. “Don’t you ever want to have a real conversation?” read one screen. “What do you mean by ‘real’?” read another. And, of course, there was yet another of modern life’s major online distractions, the cute cat video.
Psychedelic music continues to play a major role, with the Men banging out rhythmic patterns and melodies on their white PVC pipes and the trio of musicians above the stage often rocking out with them.
There was a humorous disco bit. As the music throbbed, electronic humanoid images demonstrated various booty-shaking maneuvers, with just about every known synonym for booty flashed on screen.
The three Men share a wordless rapport, drawing the audience into their inquisitive, playful realm. Their multi-media show is witty, cerebral and physical, with some Penn & Teller-style magic lurking,
As always, there was a lot of percussion and a lot of splattered paint. The iconic Cap’n Crunch bit has been amped up with the cereal-gobbling Men munching loudly and churning out a rhythm.
A segment called “Rock Concert Movements” spoofed several cliched rock gestures. Advertising and marketing schemes were parodied. For example, a multi-blade razor had so many blades, the eighth blade’s function was to “trash talk” your whiskers away.
Phil Stanton, one of the three co-creators, introduced the new segments. Stanton said when they first staged Blue Man Group in New York in 1991 their hope was it would run three months, and then maybe tour colleges. Instead, BMG sprouted like mushrooms, first in Boston, and then in five other cities. There’s now a touring show, a cruise ship show, as well as various film and television projects.
“For this show to stay the same it had to be continually changing,” Stanton said. “Parts that are topical have to change to help us connect to the time and place we’re in.”
We spoke with Stanton one-on-one after the show, in fact, after he’d flown to Chicago where they, too, were opening the new version of the show.
When I brought up the GiPads, Stanton recalled a recent dinner party not long. No one was talking. Everyone was Tweeting.
“It’s so pervasive,” he said. “That little screen has is so much of our lives the backdrop of our lives.”
Today’s smart phone-and-tablet culture is a theme that courses through Blue Man Group’s newly adapted production. It’s not all about the iPad, he noted. It’s about all of them new-fangled, time-sucking, obsessive-networking, never-disconnected things.
“We live very fragmented lives,” Stanton said. “We felt like our collective attention span is getting shorter.”
While Blue Man Group pokes fun at that culture and compulsive multi-tasking, Stanton said, “the purpose of Blue Man is not to judge, but to point out, as advanced as technology is, we need to be fully human. Our bodies aren’t going anywhere. Blue Man is tactile, physical, primal.” “We see Blue Man as embodying fully human attributes. To be happy and alive is to find things to remain curious about. And creativity and the ability to connect with other people and become part of a community – that’s what we try to find in the material we write. To stay excited about it.”
“We wanted the show to reflect the time we live it and we live very fragmented lives. We felt like our attention span, collectively, is getting shorter. The way we very naturally developed the show, the longest part of the it is 12 minutes. We think of it as a throwback, as a modern form of vaudeville. We try to take people on a bit of a journey. We’ve written material from standpoint of what we would like to see, to appeal to the everyone within us, something that could make us think, but blow our minds a little bit.”
Stanton did not necessarily see the show, once called “Tubes,” now just Blue Man Group as changing. “Early on,” he said, “I may have thought of it as a show set in stone, but this is a different animal. It had to change to stay the same.”
The brave (oppressive? necessary? addictive?) world has been dealt with in part in many TV shows and movies. “But,” Stanton said, “I haven’t seen anyone deal with as in your face. It’s also the backdrop of the show reflecting the backdrop of our lives.”
Like many of us, Stanton has mixed feelings about it all. “We like to poke fun at these things, but I’m not a Luddite. There are wonderful things happening. It looked like this technology would isolate us but it helps communicate. It does serve to distance us, too. One of the purposes of Blue Man is not to judge it, but to point out as that advanced as we are technologically, we need to be full human. Our bodies aren’t going anywhere. Blue Man is tactile, physical, primal.”
What about Gates? Will he take umbrage or assign attack lawyers?
Stanton laughs. “He’ll see it as a GiAd for what he’s doing.”
Backstory: It was 1995.No one had ever seen anything quite like it in Boston. Three silent men with bald caps and blue grease-painted heads took the stage at the Charles Playhouse, beating drums, spraying paint, tossing food, looking quizzically at each other and the audience, questioning authority.
It’s doubtful that in 1988 Blue Man Group founders, Stanton, Chris Wink and Matt Goldman envisioned the levels to which their performance art-cum-music show would reach. “I think they had ambitions,” said general manager Jonathan Screnci, who’s been with the Boston production eight years and started out as the drummer in the musical group that accompanies the Blue Men on stage. “But I’m amazed continuously” at its appeal. “This is cross-generational.”
Certain things you can count on. The Blue Men will always toss marhmellows and catch them in their mouths. They will bring an audience member on stage to sit at a table and bob their heads – not to the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” anymore but to random radio channel surfing. The backing band will play loud psychedelic, Pink Floyd-like instrumental rock. Twinkies will be consumed – and regurgitated. It will get a little messy – and wet – at the end.
“But,” says Screnci, “the show does change. There’s a certain interaction between the Blue Men and the audience. It’s a real of-the-moment experience.”
Mike Brown has been a Boston Blue Man for seven years. He began with the company in New York, where it all started. “I first saw Blue Man in 1997,” he said. “I was a young actor in college. I knew how to play the drums and when I saw the show I fell in love with it.” He began working behind the scenes, auditioned to be a Blue Man, got the gig, and is now “living the dream.”
The Blue Men share a sense of curiosity, wonder and playfulness. They make intense eye contact with each other and the audience. A Blue Man will act up upon occasion – and then check for approval from the others.
Brown said a Blue Man “looks at our world and wants to spin it on its head. He looks at the world more innocently and he’s more curious than the average person who has walls put up. The Blue Man has no ego; he’s not afraid to leap off a cliff to see what will happen. He is a bit clownish. He’s not afraid to be embarrassed, and probably doesn’t know what embarrassment is. He’s trying something new because he can.” Shows: Wed – Fri. at 8, Saturday 5 and 8, Sunday 1 and 4. Tickets: $69-$49. Note: There’s lots of deals being offered – group, student, rush, etc. – so check the website and there is a promotion going on now when you go to the Blue Man option on Ticketmaster type in the code NEWBLUE.
74 Warren St., 800-982-2787 www.ticketmaster.com