Into the wild blue yonder
Blue Man Group is one of the most popular and oddest left-field theatre experiences to come out of the United States. Every so often the call goes out for new Blue Men.
Patrick Pulin alternates between sitting and standing in the lobby of Chicago's Briar Street Theatre, nervously flipping back and forth through the pages of his application to join the Blue Man Group alongside dozens of other hopefuls who have come to audition for the theatrical spectacle.
"Anything that keeps me performing would be a blessing . . . If I can be on stage making people laugh or entertained, it would be a dream," says Poulin, 25, who moved to Chicago from Boston to work in the city's comedy scene and theatres. At 1.85 metres, Poulin meets the Blue Man Group's requirement to be at least 1.55m but no taller than 1.88m.
Blue Man Group started with three friends in New York more than two decades ago and has grown from an off-Broadway show to having productions in Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando. A tour will soon take Blue Men to stops across the United States and international versions of the percussive show - with its three tall, bald, blue actors - are going to Australia, Brazil and Germany.
About 60 actors play Blue Men around the world and producers are always looking for new performers. This northern summer they hosted the Chicago audition and they plan auditions in Las Vegas this month and in New York in November.
In Chicago, the dozens who joined Poulin on the first day showcased their acting abilities and drumming experience, if any, with the Blue Man Group's music director. Poulin admits he's rarely done any drumming.
"He kind of just let me follow some basic stuff he was doing," Poulin says. "I didn't go too far beyond that. I wasn't going to try to embarrass myself."
Lucky for Poulin, it turns out that while drumming is a major part of group's productions, actually being a good drummer isn't crucial for auditions.
"It's really about the character coming out through drumming," says Jeff Quay, who is associate music director for Blue Man Group and ran the music section of the Chicago auditions.
"Rarely am I looking for good technique, just a guy who can take direction well, but has good listening skills."
Blue Man Group staff members give the applicants an initial grade. While about 77 hopefuls showed up for open casting in Chicago, less than half made it to call-backs the next day.
Another hopeful in Chicago was Dan Plehal, 25, who went to graduate school for theatre and comes from a family of artists. Plehal and Poulin both made it through the first round of auditions.
"I think I scraped by yesterday by the skin of my teeth," Plehal says the day of call-backs, when the actors who made the cut performed in groups for a panel of Blue Man Group staff.
Collin Batten is one of the Blue Men in Chicago and was one of the staff members assessing the applicants. He says call-backs are "where it gets a little bit meatier, more detailed". Batten says call-backs give the Blue Man Group a chance to see an actor's personality. "The greater goal is to create a transcending experience for people."
An undetermined amount of people will be picked, but they will not necessarily be staying in Chicago. Depending on their skill level, new members will have to learn the drumming as well as the acting. Quay says this process can take months.
Members of the Blue Man Group are rarely known by their name, because they act as a group and are dressed exactly the same in black clothing and trademark blue makeup. That doesn't worry Plehal.
"I've never been the type of actor that prefers to be in the spotlight, the main character," he says. "I love being a supportive member of a group, being the side character, being in the ensemble."
The outcome of the audition process is still unclear for Plehal and Poulin. Plehal says he'll move anywhere and Poulin will relocate, too.
"Totally, totally," he says. "My lease ends at the end of September, so I'm ready."