KALEN ALLMANDINGER (Blue Man) has performed with Blue Man Group all over the world. He studied acting at Chicago College of Performing Arts, where he worked with Lookingglass, About Face, and Chicago Shakespeare theater companies.
Combine percussion, science, humor, technology, lights, paint and three mysterious blue guys who never utter a word and you’ve got Blue Man Group. A theatrical group whose founding roots date back to the 1987 New York City scene, Blue Man Group has become such a success that parent company, Blue Man Productions, now produces shows on a world-wide level.
FM Spotlight brings you an exclusive interview with Blue Man Kalen Allmandinger for a rare glimpse at one of the guys behind the blue.
Where are you at right now?
Little Rock, Ark. We’re down here for a show this week.
I bet the weather down there is a bit nicer than Fargo.
Yeah, it’s not too bad down here.
So where are you originally from; where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Iowa around the Quad Cities, and I went to high school in Davenport, sort of a farming community.
Are you married, have kids?
I’m married, and actually my wife travels around with Blue Man Group and helps sell our merchandise. It’s nice to be able to travel with her.
What do you do during your time off?
It usually varies. Last summer, we had a lot of shows, but I try to spend time with my family and travel to Iowa to see them.
How long have you been performing with Blue Man Group?
Let’s see, it’s been about 11 years now. I took some time off for a little while, but for the most part, I’ve been performing with Blue Man for 11 years.
Where has touring taken you?
I’ve been to a lot of places all around the world. I started here in the states in Boston for two years. I’ve been everywhere from Houston to Chicago, did shows in London and Berlin, also spent a year in Tokyo.
How was Tokyo?
It was great, and I loved, met a lot of friends over there. I would’ve stayed in Tokyo longer, but I really needed a break from the show.
So right now you’re touring around North America?
Yes. We’re in Little Rock, Ark., right now. We usually stay about a week at each place we travel to. We’re about three-quarters of the way through this tour. So a few more stops, head up to Canada and then we’ll be making our way to Fargo.
Have you ever been to Fargo?
I haven’t yet, but I’ve been to Grand Forks.
Grand Forks? Pfshh, what pops in to mind when you hear the name Fargo?
Well (pause) I guess I think of Grand Forks (laughing), so that’s really the only association I have with the area. But, hearing Fargo, every once in a while an image of Francis McDormand pops in to my head too.
(Laughing) That’s a great movie, isn’t it?
Yeah, it really is. I guess that area around Fargo certainly has a different feel to it. I’ve spent time in Minnesota and I actually lived in Wisconsin for a while – right in the middle of the state where it’s sort of woodsy and all carved out by topography and glaciers (pause) and there are those long, cold winters. I really enjoyed being up there though. The area’s almost like a distant relative.
Well, you’re already blue so you’d fit well into the Fargo scene. Corny joke, I know.
So what type of show are you putting on at the Fargodome?
This show is its own beast. We’ve got some musical numbers that are original to when Blue Man Group first started, but we also have some slight variations. It’s nice touring this show because the size of where we perform is in between. Some places have just 300 seats and the stage and others are more like big rock concerts with a larger audience. This show has the essence of all of them – the spectacle and flash stimulation, huge video elements, visceral music. We do have quieter and more intimate moments, and we pull people out of the crowd.
Pulling people out of the crowd! I saw Blue Man Group in Vegas a few years ago and, personally, what really got my attention was how the audience is actually a part of the show. It’s not like other shows where there’s that sort of distance between actors on stage and a crowd watching.
Yes! And for us the most satisfying parts to the show is being able to have that direct connection with the audience. The audience influences how the show goes. Basically there’s no “fourth wall” and each Blue Man is not in some other place or pretending to be in some other setting … he’s right there in that theater.
What’s also crazy is that your show is based on a lot of nonverbal communication, so a Blue Man never talks. Is it difficult to communicate with the audience?
When you’re first hired in the position you learn the characteristics and what makes the character … basically, how to be a Blue Man. Really, a Blue Man consists of honesty. You don’t say anything, but if you’re feeling that something is real, it’s all circumstantial and what the character finds himself in. If you (as an audience member) see an honest reaction, you can fill in the blanks and the words the Blue Man would be saying if he was talking. If we show we are truthfully affected by them (the audience), then you can trust it will read. Facial expressions are the deadpan and, for us, it all comes down to the eyes. The truth is there even though there’s sort of a mystery behind each Blue Man.
So why blue? Why not green or red?
Well, blue is kind of a beautiful color. We’re a rich, deep cobalt blue. Yves Klein (French artist) was also influential. The shades he used to pain monochromatic paintings … canvases painted in blue, some with textures and patterns … sometimes just a blue canvas. That was part of the inspiration. If we were green people would think aliens, red and people would think angry. Blue is sort of a neutral color, like the ocean.
What is the blue? Is it paint?
Yes, it’s grease paint put on heavy and thick like theatrical makeup like a clown’s, but thicker.
What about your hair?
We have bald caps we put on. We slap on the paint, and it stays wet.
So if someone touched your face, they’d have blue all over?
Doesn’t that stuff get hot?
It gets very hot. And the show is very physical and our storytelling is done through just actions, since it’s not verbal. It gets hot, but we have a lot of stamina.
Ever had any big disasters while performing?
One of the advantages to these shows is, because we don’t have any lines, if something goes wrong, we don’t have to scramble to make something up on the spot. The story is that these characters are working together to make a connection with the audience; it’s a share of experiences. In that form, they have success even through their failures and those failures are usually written into the show. One character fails, and it’s fun to watch the struggle. If something actually does go wrong, all we have to do is stay in character and sort of roll with it. Anything can happen, so it’s not a surprise, and we embrace that. It’s so interactive that 90 percent of the time it (the show) happens without anything going wrong. But sometimes, when we do bring people on stage, there can be some issues. But basically, for the structure of the show, we get from point A to B to C, and the way we do that is based on the performers of that week and the audience. To sum it up, we embrace the chaos.
Any pre-show rituals?
No, I wouldn’t say I have any superstitions or practices or even any sacred warm ups or rituals. I like to get warmed up, and to get the blood flowing, we play a lot of percussion, so I focus on warming up the hands. We really try to act like maniacs and get loose and out of our heads to get into the right mindset.
What do you do during your time off?
It usually varies. Last summer we had a lot of shows, but I try to spend time with my family and travel to Iowa to see them.