How Blue Man Group Blew Up: An Oral History

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In 1993, Wink, Goldman, and Stanton, until then the only Blue Men, trained an understudy. The night he stepped in for Stanton transformed what was possible with the show. More than 200 Blue Men have since performed in national and international productions. There are a few requirements: Blue Men must be between five-foot-ten and six-foot-one, skilled at drumming, and able to “wordlessly emote.” (Wink and Goldman, who are just under the height requirement, joke about how they might not be cast if they tried out today.) The training process is a paid eight-week gig, but many candidates are cut before the end. Among other things, they learn to embody six archetypes, which the group calls the “innocent, hero, scientist, shaman, group member, and trickster.”

Playing a “drumbone” in 1993.
Photo: Courtesy of Blue Man Group

wink: Each archetype has a binary opposite. The hero is trying to create an effect on the room, and the opposite is the innocent, who is just taking things in. The scientist is for the times the Blue Man is thinking, What is this? The shaman, for lack of a better term, tends to cultural rituals. Then there’s the group member and the trickster. What often happens is the three Blue Men are doing the same thing, then one deviates — that’s the trickster. The archetypes were created to help Blue Men be clear on the inside, even though they’re not making big expressions, on where they’re coming from.

Day: The audition process was about having to express feelings with your eyes.

Mark Frankel, a Blue Man since 2005: They gave me different scenarios. One was that I was walking in the desert and saw a bottle of water. I was just supposed to look at it.

Tim Aumiller, began as a Blue Man in 1998, now head of artistic direction: We used to have tiny apartments on Sullivan Street where Blue Men stayed during training.

Isaac Eddy, a Blue Man from 2003 to 2015: When I trained, you were expected to watch these VHS tapes in which the original Blue Men walk you through the show. They must have been 12 hours long.

Frankel: The three guys who started it were white. Initially, they were looking for analogs.

wink: We were close enough in height that we looked similar. There was a sense, in that Devo/Kraftwerk tradition, that uniformity forces you to look closer. We were trying for a bit of ego dissolution.

General Judd, a Blue Man from 1998 to 2015: I went to an open call in 1997. As I got further along in the process, people were telling me I’d be the first African American Blue Man.

Frankel: After General Judd was hired, the notion became that the character doesn’t have to look like them.

Bhurin Sead, a Blue Man since 2008: I’ve heard before that the Blue Man doesn’t belong to any race, but that feels like a fantasy. In practice, the Blue Men have mostly been white men.

Eddie: It’s that classic thing of whiteness being considered universal.

Judd: There would be times when people would comment on me being African American during the meet and greet as if they knew my secret. I’m thinking, Does it matter?

Sead: During the summer of 2020, as an Asian American, I started reflecting on whether, as a Blue Man, I had strived for a white standard or to reach an authentic part of myself. Elements of the show also made me think about the way some people have the ability to poke around in different cultures. The references to tribes and shamanism feel appropriative. Those aspects need to evolve.

Eddie: There was one woman in Boston who performed. Of course, that was referenced all the time—we had a woman once!

Andrea Johnson, a Blue Man from 1999 to 2001: As a Black woman, I figured it was a long shot. But to my surprise, they said that as long as I met the height requirement and could drum, I had as good a chance as anyone. Originally, there was a lot of excitement in the organization about my being the first woman hired to be a Blue Man. But then a decision was made not to acknowledge it at all. One of the casting directors explained the Blue Man was supposed to be representative of all people. I guess they wanted to make it seem like blind casting was the natural result of that.

Josh Matthews, began as a drummer in 1998, now music director for Astor Place Theatre: Nothing makes you realize how male the character is until you train a woman — even the way the character stands. It wasn’t intended that way, but it happened.

Lory Henning, production and stage manager, 1996–2017 and since 2021: I think on some level everyone was looking to see how male she looked.

Johnson: In my opinion, the trainers displayed a boys’-club atmosphere where double standards were the norm. I didn’t trust that anyone in the organization had my back.

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