BWW Interviews: Russell Rinker of BLUE MAN GROUP at Atlanta's Fox Theatre, January 15 - 20
If you have heard of Blue Man Group or experienced one of their previous productions or tours, you know how unique and exciting their world famous productions can be. Filled with experiences that defy categorization, Blue Man Group is best known for multi-media performances that feature three bald and blue characters who take the audience on a journey that is funny, intelligent and visually stunning. When the tour returns to the Fabulous Fox Theatre January 15 - 20 after a highly successful visit in 2011, Atlanta audiences will have another chance to experience the Blue phenomenon. Featuring classic moments and brand new content, Blue Man Group is sure to please. The "Blue Men" are usually men of few (or more accurately, no) words, but I got one of them, Russell Rinker, a veteran Blue Man, to speak long enough to tell me a little about himself, this exciting new production and why audiences of all ages are in for a real treat.
BWW: Let's start by having you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and career.
I was born and raised in rural Virginia and began playing piano and singing at age four. I did music and community theater stuff any chance I could after that. I started playing drums in high school in marching band and jazz band. From there I picked up the guitar, violin, and mandolin. I attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA and graduated with a degree in English and a degree in theater. I traveled around the east coast and mid-west for a few years doing regional theater and stage fighting/action/stunt shows. But mostly what I did were musicals, light opera, and Shakespeare festivals. I moved to Chicago to pursue theater and auditioned there for Blue Man.
So have you been part of Blue Man Group in some way since then?
Yes, off and on for several years. I did the Las Vegas show for 5 years, then I quit, but left on good terms. I moved to LA to pursue other things. I lived there for a few years. I bartended, I did commercials, some indie films, some live theater. I also played in a band and had some other music side-projects. But throughout this time I was also doing part-time work for Blue Man as a substitute performer. I filled in for all the U.S. productions for a weekend, or a week, or a few months at a time. I also did one contract (4 months) with our show on Norwegian Cruise Lines, touring Europe and the Caribbean but this is my first tour with Blue Man and, actually, my first tour ever.
And the Blue Man show adjusts and changes depending on the space and environment, correct? So even though you have been a part of it for awhile has it evolved and changed over the years?
The original Blue Man show in New York started (and still performs) in a 300-seat off-Broadway theater, which is kind of like an underground laboratory. Over the years has the company has grown, it expanded to slightly larger theaters in Boston and Chicago. When we were preparing to open our Las Vegas show in 2000, we knew we had to do something bigger, flashier, more exciting, to appeal to a Vegas audience, while staying true to the Blue Man character. Since then we've had multiple international productions, national and international tours (theatrical and rock concerts) while still adapting new material for our smaller domestic venues. Of course we've done tons of specialty appearances for TV and other media as well. The largest crowd I've ever performed for was roughly 100,000 people at a NASCAR event in Las Vegas. But, regardless of the venue, the Blue Man character is always the focus, as well as connecting to the audience while making some kind of comment on our society, and hopefully revealing something interesting to them about themselves.
So, if someone has seen the show elsewhere, this production itself will be different enough where they should experience something new?
I actually think this tour is one of the best productions Blue Man Group has ever created. We've taken what we learned by doing large rock concert tours and combined it with the intimacy of our theatrical productions. It is a great mix of classic Blue Man pieces and tons of new material, including a brand new incredibly exciting finale. Anyone who has seen another Blue Man show will definitely enjoy this production. Plus, given the nature of our show, you never know what will happen. It's always different and there's always something new you can get out of seeing it.
Does not having any dialogue create a challenge for you as an actor or is it fulfilling to be creating a character without words?
Well it's both challenging AND fulfilling. It was certainly a big adjustment to make when I first started with the show, especially considering my theatrical background where I relied so heavily on words and using my voice. But it's amazing how much you can 'say' without saying anything. It has really made me re-evaluate everything I do on stage, and overall it has made me a much better actor and performer. We have such a wide array of people who come to see the show, people of all ages, from all backgrounds, from all over the world. It's very exciting knowing we can use physical storytelling to transcend all age/cultural/language barriers and tell the same universally human story.