The Blue Man Group is coming through Portland this weekend for five performances, March 7-9. Since interviewing a Blue Man is a weird thing to do on a Tuesday afternoon, the Mercury sent me.

I sat down with Russell Rinker, a trained Shakespearean actor and former lumberjack who's been with the company for over 7 years. My only regret is not asking him about Blue Man Groupies.

ALEX: You started out with the Blue Man Group show in Las Vegas. How was that?

A BLUE MAN: It's surreal, you know? It's a weird place to live. But definitely moving out there with something like the Blue Man show is the best way to do it because you have this instant network of friends, you get to meet people in the show community.

You got into the show network? You mean you were hanging out with showgirls and magicians all the time?

Actually, yes. I was the captain of the Blue Man bowling team and we had a midnight league so we would bowl against Cirque du Soleil performers and people from Mama Mia and Avenue Q. It was crazy.

That may be the coolest thing I've ever heard of, the Vegas Entertainers Midnight Bowling League.

It was pretty awesome. You have all these interesting, talented people who are all like "How did I end up in Vegas?" Nobody knows anybody there so you end up getting close to people like that.

You left the Las Vegas show for the glow of Hollywood, right?

I was there for 5 years and I left on good terms. I just wanted to try something else, so I moved to LA for a couple years. I pretty much chose the worst time because right as I got there the writers' strike started and the economy tanked so it was pretty much the hardest time to break in. The opportunity to join the touring show came up and I love to travel, especially to be paid to travel, and I was ready to leave LA so it was a no brainer.

Wait, you mean you showed up in Los Angeles and your time as an anonymous blue drumming monster didn't make you an instant success?

Surprisingly, no. It's a really tough business.

So what were the other skills you needed to get hired with Blue Man Group? You've got an acting background but you've also got a musical background and a lumberjacking background. Which of those skills landed this job?

It's such a weird thing that we get all types of people. We have hard core drumline drummers or rock drummers who have no acting experience and we have actors with no drum experience, and clowns and dancers. I drummed in high school and after school I was doing some musical theater, some light opera. Sometimes the acting background even gets in the way because the show is so different. You've got this framework that you layer over your own character so you need to be a Blue Man, not play a Blue Man. Obviously there are certain rules to a Blue Man, he doesn't talk, he doesn't swing his arms, other than that it's up to your interpretation.

Whoa, don't skimp on that! What are the other rules of what you can't do in make-up, besides talking and swinging his arms?

The Blue Man has no ego, so he's just very innocent and curious. In the training process we go to the dog park and watch dogs interact with each other. Very curious: What's that, what's new, what's next? And just let that affect your personality.

What else did the training involve? Because so far it sounds pretty easy, just watching a bunch of puppies.

It's not easy. You learn the show, the technical stuff, etc. But there's also improv and story telling and physicality. It's like juggling where you add one ball at a time. You learn the pieces of the show but then you have to be aware of the audience and you have to connect with the other Blue Men. Stuff like that. Then there are three distinct Blue Men and they're each different characters so you can jump around and that keeps it fresh.

So there are all these other people all over the place playing their own unique versions of these Blue Men. Do you have retreats? Do like 30 blue people take over a ski lodge once a year for a bunch of Powerpoint presentations about branding?

Ha. I get that question a lot, actually. There are shows running constantly all over the country so we'd have to cancel shows to have a retreat. But we bring people into different groups all the time—they call it cross pollination—to learn from each other and bring that back to our own hives. And we have a good intranet so we can keep up with each other.

Russel Rinker, Blue Man
  • Russel Rinker, Blue Man
I hate to have been predictable with that question, but you have the resources to have the best pub crawl that's ever happened.

I know! I fantasize about that. Like for an anniversary or a book or something, we could all get together. I'm holding out for that.

This is probably the question you get the most often, but what do you do if you have to scratch your nose during the show?

… I actually never get asked that.

Really? First thing I wanted to know.

The show has plenty of challenges, but we're not putting on a pretend world the way a musical is where if something goes wrong, you have to pretend it didn't. For us, we're interacting with the audience and stuff so if something goes wrong we just deal with it as the character. We don't talk so we don't have to make up lines or anything. On the flip side, we're not really human and we have latex gloves on and a thick layer of grease paint so we can't really scratch our faces. That's something I miss from other acting.

Yeah, scratching your face is one of the best parts of regular acting. So do you get blue grease paint on all your sweaters and doorknobs and stuff?

It used to [happen] more often. It's easier when you're touring because you don't really have time to ruin everything. Our resident theatres where we've been for 10 or 20 years, there's paint on everything. And when I wake up in the morning, that stuff in the corner of my eyes is blue.


Yep. But unavoidable.

And now the big question. Do you think there'll ever be a blue woman?

There was, once. For about a year there was a woman in the cast in Boston.

Was she playing a Smurfette or was she just one of the guys?

It's funny. Blue Man is supposed to be "man" as in "humanity", but when you're watching the show and you're wondering, "Is that a woman?" it might take you out of the show. That's just my opinion.

You really make two promises in the title, blue and man. If people showed up and it was a bunch of green women, there might be riots.

Right, right. On the other hand they're not supposed to be human, so is it a woman? This discussion goes deep, I promise.

I'll leave that for your intranet.

Blue Man Group is playing at the Keller Auditorium, March 7-9, Fri 7:30 pm, Sat 2 & 7:30 pm, Sun 1 & 6:30 pm, tickets are available here.