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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Blue Man speaks, offers insights into hip troupe

And, in so many words, he says listen to your father.
Brian Tavener (Caroline Talbot, © Caroline Talbot, 2013)
Brian Tavener (Caroline Talbot, © Caroline Talbot, 2013)

PHOTO: The multimedia show Blue Man Group will perform at Green Bay’s Weidner Center.

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – Normally, the performers in the famed Blue Man Group don’t speak. They stay in locked in mute character on stage and off, as when meeting folks after shows and “signing” autographs (a blue smudge). Like with the blue face paint, blue gloves and all-black outfits, not talking is part of the deal.

In character, Blue Men are humanoids. Out of character, they are humans and speak, like Brian Tavener. He’s one of the Blue Men headed to Green Bay’s Weidner Center for the Performing Arts for a three-night gig Monday through Wednesday, Oct. 21-23. Info: www.weidnercenter.com.

In a telephone interview from Clinton Township, Michigan (near Detroit), Tavener provided insights into his experience with the now far-flung organization that started all the way back in 1987.

Tavener has been a Blue Man for six years.

He said, “I first saw Blue Man in 2007. I was living in Raleigh, N.C., and they had come through on the Megastar Tour. The first time I heard of the Blue Men and saw them was the Intel commercials in the later ’90s.”

Tavener was a performer when he saw the Blue Man Group live.

“I was firmly ensconced in my university theater program at NC State, and then also I was playing in a band most nights. So I had kind of a performing background at the time, but not a professional performer by any means.”

As have many people, Tavener thought the show was amazing and unique.

“It was a very different performance, something I hadn’t ever seen before, something that really intrigued me. And immediately I wanted to be a part of it.”

Tavener admits he wanted to be a part of a lot of shows when he’d see performances, “but it was extra special watching Blue Man, seeing the skill sets they had, the creative instruments that they play. I’m more of a musician background, so I really enjoyed the music side of it.”

Why he auditioned

“I already put a little audition package together for other professional reasons. My dad had actually sat me down initially and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you reach for the stars? There’s no time but now to try to audition for as many things as possible. Never think that you couldn’t get into anything. Never limit yourself. Just get as many lines in the water as possible.’ I was already getting an audition package together for music stuff to send out to different shows. After seeing Blue Man, that was definitely a show I wanted to send my package in to. It ended up working out.”

The question now is, What does Tavener’s father do that he has that perception?

“He works in real estate for Keller Williams Realty. He’s the regional manager of the southeast. He teaches a lot of conferences. Keller Williams is a really special real estate group because they actually have internal classes for other reasons, not just for business reasons but for personal and for life reasons, kind of inspirational life classes. My dad’s a really good teacher of those, and he’s really interested in inspiring people to challenge themselves and to grow individually.”

Being a Blue Man

To be a Blue Man takes a bunch of skills. Tavener pointed out the basics.

“You have to have some drumming skills, and I only say some because, for instance, for me, I actually didn’t come up from a professional drumming background or a studied drumming background but did have a lot of basic skills. You can then take classes and learn to harness your technique and get a little bit better. You have to have a little bit of acting skills. But I think the main thing a performer needs to be a Blue Man is an open mind, a willingness to work with others at a common goal. This show is such a special, unique show you’re going to learn a completely different way of performing.”

Applying make-up is “definitely” transforming.

“In the course of the getting-ready process, it’s the last step before realizing what you’re about to go do for the next hour and a half.  It’s pretty amazing actually. The whole show itself is a ritual and kind of celebrating the ritualistic aspects of life, and I just treat the make-up process – getting in and out of make-up – as its own mini ritual.

“Taking off make-up can be a little tiring, actually. But it’s obviously necessary. You don’t want to be walking around with blue paint on your face in reality. That might not work out. The post-show process is really interesting because as we get out of costume we definitely talk about the show we just had. How did we interact with the audience? What did we succeed at? What did we not succeed at? How do we improve on those things on the following evening? It’s always a work in progress. So it’s kind of a special time as well, to really kind of analyze what just happened, which in some cases can be really difficult considering the ritual process and having to remember like, Wait, so I was just in the moment, so did that happen? Or that sort of thing.”

There are three Blue Men in the show – Left, Right and Center. Each has a different role in the course of the performance. “I only play Center and Left right now,” Tavener said. “I know all three roles.”

Performers receive a schedule of which role they will play from performance to performance.

Tavener said, “It definitely freshens up the performance as far as getting a new perspective. It’s actually interesting to come into a new space (as the Weidner Center will be for the troupe). And when you learn the new space for the first time doing whatever first show you do, it will change if you change your role. That kind of helps. The show is all about exploring this new space, exploring new audience, really taking everything in, not taking anything for granted.”

The place and space

Some of the Blue Man Group lineups stay in a city for a long run (what’s called a “sit down” engagement). Other lineups, as the one Tavener is in, tour from city to city (and some from country to country). Tavener said the setup of different halls alters the performance of a touring unit from place to place.

“The stakes for the Blue Men are always influenced by space and the danger. We don’t know if there are sharks out there before we step off that stage for the first time. There’s definitely a breaking of the fourth wall. The entire theater, as far as we know, is the stage. The stage is only where we begin. And so it really does impact the show incredibly. One of the best parts of the touring show is that you (the performers) get a new space every time. The audience gets a genuine, fresh set of Blue Man eyes on the stage. It’s kind of a special thing to come into some else’s neighborhood home. It’s different than sit-down shows in cities, where it’s ‘They’re in our house now, and we have to welcome them in.’ On a tour, people are welcoming you into their home. So the stakes are always higher. It’s always a little bit more of an exploration.”

From coming in to going out, things often happen to an audience on seeing Blue Man Group.

“I think the reason I’m still doing it after six years is the show breaks down of a lot of the walls that we put up as humans in our day-to-day lives, especially adults. You really get to see someone shift back into their childlike state, and they leave with a little bit more of that childlike glow in their eyes. For an hour and a half, you (the audience member) kind of forget that there’s a society telling you what’s right, what’s wrong. And then you kind of forget that the person sitting next to you wasn’t your friend when you walked in – they were just a stranger – but now everyone’s kind of the same. There’s a lot of interaction between people that you didn’t know beforehand.

“There’s a meet and greet after the show – we come mingle with the audience as they leave – and that’s when you can really see it. People are taking pictures for other people, and there’s this really nice sense of community that may have not been there as much when the audience walked in.”

Listen to your father, Part 2

Tavener vaguely envisions a future outside of being a Blue Man.

“Actually, I think it’s going back to what my dad taught me and made sure that I keep in my mind: There’s always something after. You know, there’s always something you should be reaching for.

“With Blue Man, internally in the company, I have no plans of leaving performing the show. And then even beyond, I hopefully can able to help out with the show. I really believe in this character, and I really believe in the show and what it does for society and its role in society – which is a fairly big one for a Broadway show. Another best part of the company is I can be pursuing other artistic goals outside of the show as well. So I’ve been working on learning how to produce my own music and engineer my own music…”

And exploring many other ideas like a curious, wonder-seeking Blue Man would do.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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