Vermont boy changes hue,
keeps soul, finds success
by AMY SUTHERLAND
After some nagging, Brian Scott 90 finally
sits down before the mirror in a cramped, subterranean makeup room in
a New York City theater. A tin of cobalt-blue grease paint is on the
table in front of him. Mousetraps nailed to the wall hold three pairs
of stiff rubber gloves, also blue. Stacks of white towels, tinted blue,
line a shelf overhead.
A makeup artist, the slender young woman who has been nagging him, sees
her chance and quickly descends on Scott. She swabs a thin white glue
on his skin following his hairline, starting under one ear, brushing
her way across the base of his neck, up along the other ear, and across
his broad forehead. Looking at his reflection, Scott moans that hes
hungry, that he needs a little something. But theres
no time for take-out or raiding a fridge when theres less than
an hour to morph into a Blue Man.
Scott will play Left, meaning the guy on the left in the
performing trio known as Blue Man Group, the thinking mans Three
Stooges. Mute, wide-eyed, hairless, skin a dazzling Van Gogh blue, they
look like deep-space travelers who have happened upon Earth. Here they
find curiosity after curiosity: Twinkies, Capn Crunch, abstract
art, and PVC piping. Like anthropologists, they try to make sense of
it all, mostly to hilarious or rhythmic effect. During their investigations,
mashed banana inexplicably shoots from the Blue Mens chests. They
spew paint from their mouths onto virgin-white canvases. Their thoughts
zip across electronic message boards atop their heads.
The show appears at times to take much of its inspiration from junior-high
cafeteria food fights. Amid the hijinks, though, the Men manage to get
at some weighty questions, such as What is art? or Is
fractal geometry a valid metaphor for modern life?
Blue Man Group has become the little piece of performance art that could.
The company has spawned four ongoing shows, regular appearances on The
Tonight Show, two CDs with accompanying national tours, and even
that most-American measure of entering the cultural consciousness
a spot on a television commercial (Intel Pentium).
The founding trio, friends Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton,
began performing the show, Tubes, in 1989. The next year the
Blue Men moved into the Astor Place Theater on Lafayette Street and
have since played continuously, often to sold-out houses, making them
New York Citys current longest running theatrical production.
Along the way, satellite Blue Man Groups have landed in Boston (1995),
Chicago (1997), and Las Vegas (2000). The original three-person troupe
has evolved into a 350-person organization, including 30 Blue Men, one
of whom is 36-year-old Brian Todd Scott, a UVM alumnus who split his
time in Burlington between earning his degree in Spanish and honing
his musical skills with his college-era band Brave New World.
Scott joined Blue Man with the companys first expansion. He had
seen a performance in 1991, and thought I should be in that show.
Shortly after a buddy became the fourth Blue Man, Scott became number
five when the Boston show went in the works.
What does it take to be a Blue Man? On the simplest level, Scott is
the right height, between 510 and 6. His eyes are
not deep set, which is crucial because Blue Man communicates much of
his character with his peepers. He has the right attitude very
subtle, childlike, immensely curious. I was a Blue Man before
I got the job, he says. I inserted myself inside the character.
A lot of the mannerisms, things I do in real life are reflected in the
Scott also had plenty of experience on stage, though it was as a musician,
not an actor. Growing up in Randolph, where his back-to-the-lander parents
moved the family, Scott studied classical piano, then picked up the
guitar. Brave New World, which Scott co-founded, and its post-punk
music quickly became a crowd-favorite in Burlington. Once all the members
had graduated they headed south to slug it out in Bostons tough
music scene. There they chased the dream of a recording contract, working
day jobs, and playing clubs at night. During the bands six years
in Boston they came close, but never signed a deal. The band members
drifted apart; Scott hitched up with Blue Man Group. I was happy
to have a job that allowed me not to move furniture, he says.
As a novice Blue Man, Scott had to learn to drum on PVC pipes with paddles
(hit them a specific way or the note sounds flat), to spit
tempera paint onto canvas (does not taste good), to stare
at the audience (terrifying to do). During his training,
Scott lived in an apartment above the Astor Place Theater, hearing the
show every night, its thrashing music worming its way into his brain.
For four years in Boston, he did the show seven or eight times a week.
Then in 97 he launched the Chicago show. Six years as a full-time
Blue Man is not without its occupational hazards Scott had some
back problems, stiff necks, and sore knuckles from the drumming. And,
night after night covered with blue grease paint, he occasionally struggled
to keep his performance fresh, so you dont find yourself
going over your grocery list during a performance. Overall, though,
being a Blue Man has suited him well.
I would be doing if it paid a lot less, he says. Its
fun. Theres a window of improvisation and that keeps it fresh.
ACTOR TO DIRECTOR
Scott, who lives with his cats Stinky and Dennis in an apartment near
Brooklyns bustling Flatbush Avenue, has been one of the companys
five directors since 1999. In that role, he develops new material, keeps
current productions on track, and trains new generations of Blue Men.
The hardest thing to get across, the thing that comes up the most,
is getting people to stop acting so much, to trust themselves more,
invest themselves in what they are feeling, he says. This winter,
Scott will have a little extra challenge for his teaching when he begins
work in Berlin on the first international Blue Man troupe. I suspect
they will have different instincts, he says of the German actors.
Directing has freed Scott from the tyrannical schedule of performing
and allowed him to return to his own music. He recently formed a new
band, The Donkeys, which plays, in Scotts words, aggressive
For a while the Blue Man thing satisfied my urge to be a rock
star, Scott says, but then I started to realize, as wonderful
as it is, its not my project.
Still, the Blue Man thing is at the center of Scotts artistic
working life. He will don the blue grease paint tonight at the Astor
essentially as a quality check. The companys directors occasionally
perform in the shows to keep them tight and to keep their own Blue Man
As showtime approaches, skull caps in place but yet to be painted, the
performers take a long warm-up. Scott reacquaints himself with the PVC
tubes. He throws chunks of cooled cream cheese shaped to look like marshmallows
into the gaping maw of a fellow Blue Man. With a furrowed brow, he carefully
aims, one arm cocked, one leg behind him, then fires a dozen in a row
in quick order. I usually catch the cheese, he says. The
throwing is the hardest part.
Then he descends into the theaters basement, where there are shelves
full of Capn Crunch boxes and gallon bottles of brightly colored
paint, to once again turn blue. Its surprising, really, how natural
the transition is, a rocker in his mid-30s with fashionable, moppish
hair, becoming a hairless, silent droid.
While the theaters resident cat prowls the room, the makeup artist
(who minds the Blue Men like a school marm, ordering one dont
grunt) flips down the edges of Scotts skull cap and blow-dries
the edges so they seal to the glue. Another Blue Man drops a bunch of
bananas on the dressing table and Scotts eyes widen. At last,
the little something hes been needing. He does away with two.
Scott begins carefully circling each eye with blue paint, a kind of
Cleopatra look. Then he takes gobs of blue and lathers it over his nose
and across his cheeks while the makeup artist begins to slick the top
of his head with grease paint.
The final steps are quick. Scott dons the chest harness from which the
mashed banana will spew, pulls up the top of his jump suit, slides on
the rubber gloves. The transformation is complete and before me stands,
not Brian Scott, but a staring, earless, speechless Blue Man. He blinks
a few times, then wordlessly slips away.
Journalist Amy Sutherland recently published
her first book, Cookoff: Recipe Fever
in America, Viking Press.