Hannah Peters | Staff Writer
Feb. 23, 2023
Ever heard of a spinulum? A cymbulum? A drumbone?
It’s unlikely, but to a particular well-known blue and bald-headed trio known as the Blue Man Group, these are the official names of the instruments that they use regularly at their signature shows worldwide.
As the final stop of their “Speechless” tour, the group made its way to Pittsburgh and set up stage at the Benedum Center from Friday, Feb 17. through Sunday, Feb. 19.
Besides the central component of music and funky instruments, the theatrical acts in the show demonstrate a variety of themes, each act different from the last. Some acts were funny, some thought-provoking, and others were simply awe-inspiring.
There are few words that can accurately capture the magic of the Blue Man show. Even their website characterizes them as “Hard to describe. Easy to love.”
The blue men do not speak during the entirety of the show, lending to their mystique.
Their only methods of communication throughout the performance are movement, light and sound. Nonetheless, it is enough to engage their audiences and make them smile, laugh and cheer too.
There are elements of reality throughout the show, but the performance is something otherworldly.
“The show was so great. Entertaining, energetic, everything we hoped for,” said spectator Heather Ford. “And it made me feel things I didn’t think I was going to feel.”
Accompanying her was Carla Heartly. “The best part was that you could feel the music in your whole body,” she added.
According to Clista Jarret, Technical Swing and Production Props Master for the Blue Man group, the magic of their performances is carefully curated, especially the instruments.
“All of the Blue Man instruments are made by Blue Man people in a creative workshop where brainstorming and trial and error is very key,” Jarret says. “Since the beginning, it has been a collaborative effort and everybody’s voice is heard and everybody’s voice is valid.”
First conceived in the ‘80s by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton, the group started out by performing on the streets of New York City by using things found at the dollar store or ACE Hardware.
“The original paddles they used on their PVC instrument when they first started were flip-flops. And that’s how this show was created — they found stuff and they made noise.”
Now, the Blue Man Group is able to hold several permanent locations in Las Vegas, Boston and New York, in addition to global and domestic tours.
“It has definitely developed into a high-end production over the years, but we still go back to [the] basics a lot,” Jarret says. “Even now when you try to describe our instruments, they sound elementary when you really break it down.”
As part of the production, the group takes complete control over the setup of their show.
“What people don’t realize is [that] our show travels 100% self-contained. So, when we arrive at a space, the stage is completely blank. We do everything ourselves,” Jarret says.
In other words, they use nothing provided to them by the venue except the stage. Opting out of using any house lighting or sound at a venue, all technical systems and equipment are transported and constructed through the Blue Man crew.
In total, they travel in five semi-trucks and two buses to hold all their props, equipment, instruments, cast and crew.
The tour set makes this feat even more impressive — stretching from ceiling to floor. A collection of screens mask the entire stage. If not a screen, it was a flashing light panel or control board.
On these screens flashed a plethora of random images and videos like clips of ‘50s-style TV commercials, syrup being poured over pancakes and a close up of a thumb. At one point during the show, almost every monitor collectively displayed a video of a meowing kitten.
Overall, the set had a retro-futuristic style, complete with lasers, lights and haze, which never failed to keep the audience intrigued.
Despite the fine-tuning and perfect orchestration, Jarret claims that a key feature of their show is ensuring that no one performance will be the same as the next.
“This isn’t ‘The Nutcracker.’ Every show is different. Blue men are performers, not actors. The audience participation parts are all organic moments, not scripted. They have to be able to interact with people and create the ‘blesh’.”
Like the fun words they use to title their instruments, ‘blesh’ is also a part of the Blue Man vernacular. Perhaps their most special term, it’s a combination of the words ‘blend’ and ‘mesh.’
“It’s a concept from way back when they first started. They want to blend and mesh the Blue Men and the audience together in every performance so that in the end, we’ve created a blesh,” Jarret explains. “The goal of the show is to have the Blue Men communicate with the humans in the audience without ever using words. That is ultimately their art form.”
And it’s clear from their performance that they really strive to and do make a connection with their audience.
At several periods in the show, the Blue Men left their stage and dispersed among the audience. Sometimes they were looking for a volunteer for one of their acts, but other times they simply came off-stage to dance or climb on top of chairs, using the heads of guests as arm support.
They didn’t stay together either. Audience members were looking all over to locate where exactly the three Blue Men had ended up.
By the end, everyone watching felt like they had just become friends with three nameless, blue-painted men in all-black clothing who could not communicate verbally.
When the curtain finally closed and the Blue Men finished thanking the crowd and crew by holding up both hands in a praiseworthy type motion, a grandma turned to her grandson and asked, “So what’d you think? Was that weird enough for you?”
“Most definitely yes,” he replied.