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.
I am curious, you refer to "the character", so are you all ultimately playing the same individual or is that left up to the audiences interpretation?
The Blue Men share many of the same characteristics. But they are all different, essentially three parts of one entity. The 'personalities' of the characters are based loosely on the original three Blue Men who created the show and started the company: Phil Stanton, Chris Wink, and Matt Goldman. The characters are the scientist, the trickster, and the reluctant leader. Some of this comes across to the audience, although we are often playing against what the audience thinks is happening. So much of it is up to their interpretation. As performers we all play multiple Blue Man roles from night to night, which helps to keep things exciting and fresh onstage.
So, what is it about being a Blue Man that originally drew you to the show?
I saw it before I had auditioned or was interested in doing so. I liked it because I could never quite put my finger on what was happening. I mean, there always seemed to be something different, strange, happening just beneath the surface. And I found that intriguing. I liked that the show was so funny, such great comedy writing. And I really enjoyed getting to make music. And I liked that the show was designed with a higher purpose, not just for entertainment. It was clear that it was commenting on our society, and trying to get us to connect, and then help everyone take whatever they acquire during the hour and a half performance out the door with them to share with the world.
For those familiar (or not so familiar) with Blue Man Group, how would you describe this particular production in a few words?
It's not just a show, it's an experience. It's unique, imaginative, fun, funny, primal, exciting, visually stimulating, technologically advanced, everything you want out of a theatrical roller-coaster ride of an evening.
So, I have to ask about the makeup. How long does it take to become "blue" (and to become yourself again!)
It takes about an hour to get the bald cap, makeup, and multi-layered costume on, and about half an hour to get out of it all. We have a great makeup/wardrobe crew that helps us.
And, I am guessing once the makeup is off, it is difficult to pick you out at the stage door!
Well I kind of have large distinct facial features, so I get recognized once in a while. But usually no one knows who we are, which is kind of nice. The bald cap covers the head, hair and ears, and combined with the makeup we do look quite different, obviously. Plus even though most of us have full heads of hair, most people think we have shaved heads, so that's often something they're looking for if they're trying to pick out the performers. Literally hundreds, maybe thousands of times, especially in Vegas and on the cruise ship, I've recognized audience members outside of the show, even people that took pictures with me at our meet and greet, but they never knew who I was. It's fun. Like having a secret identity.
With a tour like this one, you are constantly on the road from city to city. What would you say is the hardest part of that life?
This is my first tour ever. We're almost four months in to it and I've really been having a great time. The traveling itself and the constant packing and unpacking does take a toll. But overall it's been really great to see the country, to get paid to visit awesome cities all over. And performing in different theaters has been really fun as well. We've done everything from college auditoriums, to a 4,000 seat theater in St. Louis that was built in 1929 as a movie palace, to a brand new opera house in Dallas. It's been very exciting to explore these new spaces, both onstage and off.
And do you find the audiences and cities are different wherever you go?
Our show changes from night to night, based largely on the vibe and energy of that particular audience. So each night when the curtain goes up we are really curious to see what will happen. We're very fortunate in that most people are really excited to be there and to see the show, especially on tour. A lot of people tell us that they've been waiting a long time, sometimes 5 or 10 years to see it, and now they finally can since we've come to their city. So that's nice to know. The audience response has been really great. And whether we're meeting people as audience members, or just when we're out and about exploring the city, it's kind of cliched but it's true: people are different, but we're all basically the same too.
And have you played Atlanta before?
I personally have never played Atlanta before, but the tour has been to Atlanta previously.
BLUE MAN GROUP will play the Fabulous Fox Theatre January 15 - 20. Performances are as follows: Tuesday, January 15 at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday, January 16 at 8:00 p.m.; Thursday, January 17 at 8:00 p.m.; Friday, January 18 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, January 19 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, January 20 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. For more information visit www.blueman.com.
Tickets range from $25 - $65 and are on sale now at www.FoxATLTix.com or by calling 855-ATL-TIXX (855-285-8499). Special group rates for 10 or more are available by calling 404-881-2000, emailing email@example.com or online at www.foxtheatre.org/groupsales.aspx. Half-price tickets are available for the Tuesday and Wednesday performances by using the code "AJC".
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