‘I’d be lying if I say I never get bored. It’s still a job,’ Greg Balla says. But then he leans forward and breaks into a sunny smile. ‘Though as far as jobs go, it really doesn’t get any better than this!’
Greg is one of those lucky people who found employment almost immediately after he graduated from New York’s Fordham University in 2008. He started off as an electrician, but now gets paid to be painted blue, drum on pipelines, and regurgitate marshmallow sculptures from the depths of his mouth onstage every night.
‘The best thing is that once the latex skull cap and blue face paint is on, I just become a Blue Man who has no ego and sees the world for what it is. This chair isn’t a chair to a Blue Man,’ he says as he strokes the seat of the bar chair next to him. ‘It’s a sheet of smooth, leathery material with bits of wood structured around it.’
‘Being a Blue Man is really liberating. It removes my identity and frees me from the constraints of being Greg Balla. When I first started doing this I was really conscious of the face paint. It’s greasy and sticky and smells like lipstick!’ he continues. ‘But now I’ve gotten used to it and don’t even notice it anymore. It’s become my second skin.’
As he spoke, I was struck by the passion with which he describes everything. His words are accompanied by a lot of hand gestures and an excited glint in his eyes. He smiles a lot, and occasionally pauses to apologise for ranting too much. There is something almost childish in the way that he bounces on his seat slightly, as though his enthusiasm just cannot be contained.
And then it hit me. Although the man sitting in front of me is not blue, bald or mute, Greg is still a Blue Man through and through. Not only has he fully come to terms with what his character is about, he has even aligned himself with it.
‘Being a Blue Man has changed the way I look at the world,’ he says with a sort of wisdom that only a child can understand. ‘I’m now hyper-aware of everything and have a better appreciation for things we don’t normally see.’
‘As kids we’re free, but as we grow up we adopt all these social masks in order to fit in. The point of the show is to encourage them to unmask themselves.’
The Blue Man Group, as I mentioned in my review, manages to create a level of interaction with the audience that is rarely seen onstage. The fourth wall is completely shattered as the actors clambered over the ponchoed crowd and peered deep into our eyes (and, in some cases, handbags).
‘We try to connect with the people, which means that we have to be very sensitive to them and figure out what kind of show they want,’ Greg says. ‘There’s a template to the show and we have the dots – A, B, C, D – but the audience has to help us join those dots. Sometimes we get a tamer lot, perhaps because it’s the Sunday morning performance, while other times the people just want to party. We try to accommodate that.’
In order for the actors to fully focus on the audience, the actual mechanics of the show itself have got to be solid. Although a magician never reveals his tricks, Greg was more than happy to share the stage secrets when he kindly offered to give me a backstage tour.
I was amazed by how cleverly it all works. From the tubs of blue face paint lined up on the wall ready to be splashed on, to the tubes used to connect bottles of paint to the drum sets, to the colour-coded pipe-drums (each colour represents a different note), everything is meticulously planned out.
I also noticed that there was a certain sense of pride and familiarity in the way that Greg showed me round the labyrinth of corridors and rooms. He talked me through each prop and process as though the place were his home, and introduced me to everyone we walked past like they were family.
And that is what sums up the true spirit behind the Blue Man Group. It is their understanding of how humans connect with each other on a primal level that makes them so enchanting to watch onstage. The Blue Men may not communicate with spoken words, but as Greg puts it, they have a very basic yet powerful language that is able to transcend social boundaries and bring everyone together.
‘We just want everyone to have fun,’ says Greg with his signature grin. ‘The best thing is when you get a Dad there with his kids, and the kids are having a great time while he’s just sitting there looking stern and being Dad. But then at the end of the show when the toilet paper starts shooting out and the giant balls come down, I’d look at him again and see that he’s completely changed. He’d be laughing and joining in and loving it!’
‘That’s what we’re trying to achieve. That’s what we’re all about.’
* ** *** ** *
The Blue Man Group is currently touring the US and showing in Boston, New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, Orlando, Berlin, Tokyo, and on board the Norwegian Cruise Line. Check their website for more details but this is one show you should go back to again, and again. And don’t even think about missing it!