Blue Man Group connects strangers through performance

By Bianca Kreusel and Abra Richardson

The Blue Man Group perform their signature paint drumming at the Briar Street Theater, 3133 N. Halsted St. Courtesy of Blue Man Group.

The Briar Street Theatre erupted in various colors of splattered paint and banging drums as three mysterious blue men with wide, curious eyes performed on stage to laughter and gasps, with some audience members even wearing ponchos in the front rows to avoid being covered by paint.

The Blue Man Group began performing in 1991 at Manhattan’s Astor Place Theatre in New York. It was first started by three close friends, the original Blue Men — Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton. The show developed over time and now includes various percussion performances from multiple Blue Men, small skits and audience engagement, all while the performers stay completely silent.

“What [we are] trying to do in an abstract way, a new language, is connect all of us in the audience,” said Tom Galassi, the Blue Man Group’s captain. “We’re freaking you out, and by the end of it, it’s cool and you look at the people you don’t know and laugh with them. … It’s about finding what to say about all of this.”

The Chicago show at the Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted St., was filled with engagement and laughs, but the performers and crew members needed to overcome a number of obstacles in order to have performances like this again.

“It was really strange going from not leaving my house for 18 months to this,” Galassi said. “It was really difficult because Blue Man Group essentially is really not a COVID-19 friendly show. There’s a lot of things that we used to do that we can no longer do.”

Sticking a tube down a random audience member’s throat was a part of the show before COVID-19, but now the Blue Men do this to each other instead.

Brett Presson, the stage manager for the Blue Man Group, said the production crew worked hard to change the show to follow COVID-19 safety protocols. All team members trained with face masks and figured out replacements for certain segments, while keeping the crowd engaged. They began shows again in August 2021 with the new rules in place.

“We use all these tools, characters and music to get to this place,” Galassi said. “There’s no handbook for what to do to connect everyone, that’s the fun part.”

Jeff Quay, associate music director for the Blue Man Group and band member, plays music in a glass box while the Blue Men perform their acts. He said the crew works hard to earn and maintain positive reactions from the audience.

“There’s a couple of conundrums in the show,” Quay said. “The band is taking cues from all directions all the time, so it’s a complex equation.”

Showtimes and tickets are listed on the group’s website.