Blue Man, Big Heart 

What it means to be a Megastar

The androgynous and egoless presentation of the Blue Man Group (BMG) creates a perfect viewing scenario for its audiences. It allows viewers to construct whatever they would like to imagine. BMG is in the present moment; it is you, me, everybody and the relationships we create. As BMG has evolved, the members have sought to express themselves as an experience and not as individuals, inspiring the creative and playful side that we as the audience may have forgotten is in ourselves. A phone conversation with Matthew Banks of BMG led to the discovery that despite the title How to be a Megastar Tour 2.0, BMG strives to inspire viewer introspection and celebration of Self as a performer.

Boise Weekly: Everybody probably asks this--why blue?

Matthew Banks: There is no real answer, except ... one of the guys had a dream when he was really little, and it was filled with all these blue people. It turned out to be a good color; there aren't any racial connotations. The idea of the character is to not have a cultural mask.

I always like to hear about working percussionists, especially on a national and international level. How did you hook up with such an excellent gig?

I was living in Toronto at the time. BMG has a casting division that is always looking for Blue Men, and they go around to all the major cities--Paris, Toronto, London. I just showed up, did a drumming thing, a little bit of an acting exercise, and they invited me to do more workshops and auditioning in New York City, where I just got in deeper and deeper.

Do you have to know how to sight-read music and have a certain technical ability?

No, actually nothing is written down. It's show and teach. Everything I learned when I first entered the show was watch what to do and do what I see, musically-wise anyway.

Since most of your music is not written down, how do you preserve the flow of the performance? Does BMG improvise the entire time? Do you create a set list of motifs and ideas prior to the show, or do you have a standard set list that you follow each night?

We have a set list, and every show has certain points that guide us. Between those points, there is a lot of improvisational freedom based on who the other Blue Men are and how they are relating to the audience. The audience is a big factor. It can feel like the show is unfolding for the first time in front of all those people. There are pieces that we'll definitely do in a certain order, and the way the pieces are actually executed kind of breathe and ebb and flow.

I saw a BMG video [on Google] about global warming. How does the audience react to this controversial topic?

Well, when we play it at our rock concert, we're just carrying on as usual, playing rock songs, people are getting down, then we play the global warming piece, and we're like ... oh yeah, guess what? The planet is going to explode if we don't do something about it. Though it is a dark topic to think about, the people scream and seem to love it. Although there is no immediate solution offered at the show, our goal is to bring awareness about global warming. It would be great to have more solutions in it, but the aim of the show is to get people to look at themselves from the inside out, which will eventually lead to the planet as a whole. People dig it--they give us the "Yeah, we get it!" scream, not the "That guitar solo kicked ass!" scream.

It's refreshing to hear that your material includes socially relevant topics. As one of the Blue Men, do you feel a dutiful sense of responsibility to promote this type of awareness?

Yeah, I am very environmentally friendly. I've taken eight people separately to see [Al Gore's] An Inconvenient Truth. On this last leg of the tour, the company switched over to biodiesel for the tractor-trailers. We're trying our best to do our part.

As a performer, what do you want to evoke to your audiences?

Beyond just having a good time, I wonder if people will have an experience like I did. When I saw my first show, I felt like I had discovered something really wonderful. It reminded me of how playful I was, but forgot sometimes. [My] character is a really curious, innocent, playful being, and it is so much fun to ride the wave of the characters in the show. I think what happens is that people end up sympathetically vibrating with the characters and end up having a really good time by writing their own story about what they think these characters are communicating to each other. [The Blue Men] don't speak, but they are always looking at each other and end up somehow mysteriously sharing information. It is captivating. We do meet-and-greets in the lobby after every show. People come up, take pictures, we shake their hands, and they are always so grateful and amazed. They say things like, "That's the best thing I've ever seen." It can get really deep, too. One person told me, "I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and this was the first time I really laughed out loud." It can be hardcore that way, and then others are just there to have a good time and laugh. The show opens up the giggle reflex.

Do you have anything that you would like to tell BW readers?

Perhaps I could offer up the irony of BMG doing a tour called How to be a Megastar Tour 2.0. Be it that [a Blue Man] has no cultural mask, he has no ego, he is a walking non-talking ball of innocence. To throw that kind of energy into the title Megastar is kind of funny. The show is about learning what it takes to be a megastar--the ingredients or recipe. By the end of the show, people end up celebrating themselves more than BMG. When I went to a Billy Joel concert, I remember thinking that he is so awesome. He sings two hours straight. His piano playing is wicked, but I was driving home celebrating him. When I saw BMG [the first time], I walked home and had this good feeling about myself inside, and about the connections I was able to make during the show and the connections I am able to make because I have experienced the show. From what I have experienced, and from peoples' testimonies, BMG ends up being more of a celebration of themselves and not the megastar icon, which we as a society are so into worshipping today.

February 7, 7:30 p.m., $51.50, $77. The Idaho Center, 16200 Idaho Center Blvd., Nampa, call 208-442-3232 for ticket information or 208-468-1000 for general information, www.idahocenter.com.

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