Blue Man Group and its multi-media experience comes to the Warner Theatre on March 23rd for a brief 12-day run of their first ever touring version of a theatrical production. The organization, which now has over 50 employees, was founded in New York City in 1987 by three friends – Phil Stanton, Chris Wink and Matt Goldman. In 1991, their first Off-Broadway show, Tubes, captured an Obie and a Lucille Lortel award. They followed up with music and scores for both film and television, national and international tours from Las Vegas to Brazil, and numerous late night show appearances. The group’s interactive performances are dominated by three men painted blue with no ears, hair or voices, and are a combination techno concert with live music, comedy and multi-media.
I spoke with David Traver, the group’s Music Director who also performs on stage with the band.
Jordan: What is your musical background?
David: I studied jazz in high school and later at Northeastern University in Boston I studied Music Technology, a course that uses computers to make music. After that I played in jazz and rock bands and worked for Blue Man Group as an intern. I wanted to be involved in any way I could so I painted sets and did everything under the sun until I could finally audition and then I was hired on.
How long have you been with Blue Man Group?
As a band member I started playing in 2003.
We have so much audience participation that there is usually some kind of a surprise during the shows. Sometimes people get so excited that they run up on stage or all around the aisles. Sometimes they dance with us. It’s always a new experience for us.
How do you combine your work with Blue Man Group and the performance art troupe, DRIP, that you work with, as well as your own bands Star Classic and HIL?
I actually compose from the road. I’m currently writing Riff, a new show for DRIP. It’s a rock/performance art show. I send them music via Skype or the Internet. It allows me to work with artists all across the world. The other two bands are on hiatus now.
Does Blue Man Group have a social message?
I’d say it would be ‘community’. The show is about a bunch of strangers having an experience together and the three Blue Men are a bit of an ‘everyman’. They try to understand the audience, while the audience tries to understand them. They establish a thread between them. It’s all about connection and community.
How many different instruments do you use in the show?
Twelve instruments in all with three Blue Men and four band members that are on stage – and all of us are visible.
I play guitar and electric zither. The zither is an 86-stringed table instrument that is tuned to separate sections for chords and harp and then streamed through numerous pedals and a specially designed amplifier built by Kendrick to create a sound similar to the vintage Orange amps we like to use.
The electric zither comes from a family of instruments that includes the Japanese koto, the dulcimer and the autoharp. They were around for hundreds of thousand of years ago. The word actually refers to the style of the instrument in which the strings do not extend past the sounding box.
We build our own zither and tune it to certain chords that are played with a slide and tuned to an E major scale. We take that and give it a modern sound with distortion and delays.
We also use something called the Chapman Stick, which is a ten-string instrument that is a guitar fingerboard without a body attached. We tap and strum and rub things on the strings and run the effects through amps.
Outside of the guitar and percussion these are the untraditional instruments.
Will your upcoming IMAX film “Blue Man Group: Mind Blast” be released this year?
I’m not really sure since I’m not in it. But we’re working on it now and we’re really excited about it. Most of this happens in New York where we are based and where they work on that and a number of other projects.
What can audiences expect to experience here in DC?
For those who haven’t seen Blue Man Group it’s best to come without any preconceptions. They’ll certainly be surprised by a performance like they have never seen before. There’s an amazing amount of energy and comedy. And for those who may have been to one of our shows in the past, they will be seeing a totally new show.
After the show we do a meet and greet and one of the things that I’ve noticed is that people come up to us and tell us they came for their kids’ sake and then they add, “The things that my children loved, I loved too.” It’s really for all ages.