Those thundering beats of the drums as paint flies everywhere, all thanks to three bald, blue men, is an experience that couldn’t remain silent any longer in Chicago. Blue Man Group — part rock concert, part comedy extravaganza — has reinvented itself in spite of the pandemic to give families back some of what they’ve been missing.
Connection. Joy. Fun.
“One thing I think Blue Man is good at, and will continue to be good at, is that you can bring your entire family to our show and there’s something in that show for everybody and it’s a shared experience so when you leave it, on the car ride home, everyone will take something away,” says Gareth Hinsley, who has poured his heart and soul into being a Blue Man for the past 15 years. In real life, he’s the dad of three kids.
“Personally, I think if I have the opportunity to do that with my kids now, I really want to embrace those opportunities where we’re making some positive memories as a family on the back of enduring what’s been going on,” he says. “It’s a beautiful thing to have with your family, those shared moments.”
Beyond those shared moments, Blue Man Group is actually the perfect show for families with kids because the Blue Men embrace child-like wonder and physical comedy that kids find hilarious. Kids are often the first to throw their hands in the air to enthusiastically volunteer as a Blue Man scans the audience for unwitting participants for skits or to try to catch a marshmallow heaved from stage.
Hinsley took time out to share some other takeaways he sees happening from the new show for families. They add up to four great reasons to plan your own Blue Man Group experience.
1. It inspires curiosity.
Kids and their adults are seeing a lot of barriers right now and the issues of the day — COVID and global warming among them — can seem a little heavy to bear, he says.
The Blue Man, though, looks at things a little differently. “If a Blue Man was to look at it, they wouldn’t focus on that bit. They would look and say what is the opportunity in that, how do we fix that, what can we do?” he says. “… Everyone should try and channel their inner Blue Man a little bit more if they can. When you look at something, look for opportunity, not the barrier.”
That’s always a good message to reinforce with kids, to never stop being curious and look at things differently, he says.
2. ‘It’s what we need right now.’
Hinsley’s two oldest kids, ages 5 and 7, attended the first dress run before the show reopened to the public and found it hilarious. It was a great litmus test for him that Blue Man Group still accomplishes its mission.
“Especially on the back of the pandemic, it resonates differently this time around,” he says. “… We want to be able to give the audience an escape from what’s going on the outside, to come and sit in this room and watch the show and be transported somewhere else for an hour and a half, to laugh, be with people, experience this thing and take that positive energy back out into the world with them,” he says.
“It’s what we need right now.”
3. It’s all about connection.
The barriers put up 18 months ago to keep people safe — quarantines, masking, social distancing — have impacted people’s connections with each other in sometimes dramatic ways as they have spent more time on their phones or Zoom than in person. Hinsley says he’s even noticed it in his own life.
But not on stage. “The Blue Man — everything we do is an effort to connect,” Hinsley says. “The value that we put on as a company artistically about how important it is not to lose that ability to connect with someone, to have a moment with someone, a stranger, a new friend, a member of your family.”
He says he’s taking that message from the show to heart.
“Hold on to that as long as you can.”
4. Laughter, fun and joy rule.
The company, across the board, is committed to giving audiences big doses of levity and joy, he says.
In the new show, some of the classic pieces return, with audience participation and the rock vibe still very much the go-to. Two new pieces have been added, one never before seen in Chicago that “brings a whole new world of hilariousness” to the stage with two audience members and the three Blue Men, and the other conceived, created and developed by the Chicago team that he says he finds so funny. “Really, really good fun,” he says.
At the same time, The Briar Street Theatre in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, where Blue Man Group resides, feels like a safe space, with COVID-19 safety precautions firmly in place. The commitment to keeping the audience and performers safe and comfortable is evident, he says.
Masks are required for everyone and the number of people in the lobby mingling is limited. Even the Blue Men don face shields when in the audience and when an audience member is on stage. One change: no chewed-up, spit-out food landing in people’s laps in the splash zone. That doesn’t mean, though, there isn’t plenty of risk of getting messy.
Or lots of laughter to add to the sound of those beating drums filling the theater.
A full show schedule is available now through October, with more dates expected to be added. Buy tickets at blueman.com/chicago/buy-tickets.