Why Is America So Blue? A Performance Analysis of the Blue Man Group that Demonstrates the Deeper Cultural Significance within the Structure of its Performance

Sean A. Fidler


The performance artists known as the Blue Man Group have taken America by storm in their performances through the clever use of household products ranging fkom Twinkies to toilet paper and not through the traditional presentation of a play script. The Blue Man Group started in the late 1980's as three mute, bald-capped street performers clad entirely in black except for their heads, necks and hands that were covered with cobalt blue paint. Keeping the blue body paint but moving off the street, the group has grown and they have now established themselves in legitimate theatres in four major cities across the country: New York, Boston, Chicago, and Las Vegas. However, the group has not limited themselves to just the stage for performances. They have established themselves on the Internet and they have become the commercial television "spokespeople" for the computer chip company, Intel and its Pentium 111 and Pentium 4 Processors. Also on television, they have appeared on the national news network CNN (Cable News Network), The 2001 Grammy Awards, and the late night talk show The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The Blue Man Group makes all of these audiences feel right at home as they are bonded together by PVC pipe drumming and the knowledge that they are connected by indoor plumbing. Articles and reviews have been written about them in local magazines and nationwide periodicals fiom WHERE/BOSTON to TIME Magazine but none delve into the overall structure and the cultural significance of the Blue Man Group performances. In fact, this research has revealed very little criticism and skepticism. No one has attempted to do a structural or cultural analysis of their performances in order to explain their grand cultural significance. Current performance theory holds that there is liminality in theatre or rather that the line between ritual and theatre is often obscured. The Blue Man group has taken this idea and tried to shape a theatre performance into a ritual so that people may experience it more readily. Furthermore, the group has combined drama, dance, and multi-media to ritually bring the spectators into the common kinship of humanity by artfully constructing a postmodern, Dionysian comedy. They have taken an approach geared toward the mass market in order to spread the word of these experiences. This study will begin with an introduction which focuses on the thesis and theories. This will be followed by Chapter 2 which describes a history of the group, its marketing approach, and a description of the their performance. Chapter 3 contains several sections but begins with an introduction to Postmodernism, which is followed by a section on Theatre Anthropology and an application of its concepts to the Blue Man Group Performers. The following sections explore the connections between ritual and theatre using Semiotics and Performance Theory that demonstrate how the Blue Man Group's show demonstrates these connections. The final chapter, Chapter 4 applies the results of the study to culture and discusses the significance of the group.