Since its formation two decades ago, the Blue Man Group has become a cultural icon.
Of what, exactly, is a little hard to pinpoint.
“It’s the trickster, it’s the experimenter, it’s the scientist, it’s the clown,” said Blue Man Group creative director Jeffrey Doornbos. “We like to say it’s an opportunity for everyone to find their inner blue man.”
With those words, Doornbos captures the spirit of the Blue Man Group. They are, for the uninitiated, that blue-faced, black-clad, freaky-eyed bunch who play crazily fabricated instruments and usually manage to entrance their audiences, even the most skeptical members, without saying a word.
He also captures the thrust of the Blue Man Group’s “Making Waves,” a portable, interactive exhibit that’s been making the rounds since its 2005 launch at the Boston Children’s Museum. It opened to the general public in this neck of the woods yesterday at the Kids Discovery Museum and will run through August.
BMG’s fame has skyrocketed since its formation in 1988, with regular appearances on “The Tonight Show,” a hit Las Vegas show and even an Intel commercial to its credit.
But Doornbos believes the Making Waves exhibit brings the group back to its roots, when founders Phil Stanton, Chris Wink and Matt Goldman started messing around with the limits of performance art by constructing their first PVC pipe instrument following a design vaguely reminiscent of African tribal instruments.
That spirit of experimentation, improvisation and collaboration was something Doornbos said the group wanted to recapture in the midst of its splashy worldwide fame, bringing its mission back around from on-stage performance to educational outreach. They want to teach museum visitors of all ages about the science of sound and sound-making in a cool multimedia setting.
Guests and school kids were treated to a recent preview of the KiDiMu exhibit, and they found the normally airy KiDiMu exhibition hall completely transformed.
One of the first options upon entering is to sit down in a space-age-cozy nook to view a Blue Man Group performance on-screen. This warm-up, offering prep to the uninitiated, is flanked at the entrance by an irresistible arrangement of the original PVC instruments fabricated by the group.
Picture the pipes on a pipe organ. Except instead of an organ at the base, there’s an impossibly curly mass of more PVC pipe. When the player whacks a pipe’s color-coded opening, a rich note miraculously emerges from the contraption. A single player can go to town with “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” or be joined by a buddy or buddies to create a variety of original or pre-scored arrangements.
The horde of students visiting from the Odyssey Multiage Program was entranced from the get-go. One minute, they were entering en masse; the next, they’d completely disappeared into the exhibits. No one had to say a thing.
“It takes them no time. They just dive right in,” Doornbos said.
Aside from the black lighting and futuristic, well, everything, another noticeable shift in the environment is the average age of the kids getting into it.
Up until this point, KiDiMu exhibits have catered to the younger set; some Odyssey students said their preview visit was the first time they’d ever set foot inside.
The verdict was thumbs-up.
“I thought it was really clever,” said 14-year-old Eric Seely. “It makes you feel like one of the musicians.”
Thirteen-year-old Ty MacVane, engaged in a duet on the “Slide U Um” with a classmate, agreed.
“I’ve seen the Blue Man Group, and I think it would be quite interesting (for a KiDiMu visitor)… they’d see the instruments and think it would be pretty cool to actually try to use them.”
That was music to Doornbos’ ears, as he looked around at the gleeful, collaborative, spontaneous frenzy of sound-making.
“I love this,” he said. “I think it’s what it should be about – taking what seems to be pure entertainment and finding the depth in it.”