Shane Andries happens to be a white guy, but he inhabits a utopian universe where everyone's skin color is the same. Blue.
Since its inception in 1987, Blue Man Group — let's call it a musical theater stage show — has charmed millions around the globe with its childlike examination of human beliefs, new technology and the simple joy of living.
That's because its appeal is universal. The three playful Blue Men perform non-verbally, using elements of silent film comedy, vaudeville shtick and contemporary multimedia and computer effects. Through this combination, they provide innocent commentary on the stuff that you and I, along with everybody else, experience every day.
Created by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Savannah native Phil Stanton, Blue Man Group has been to Japan, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands and all points in between.
On the current American tour, Shane Andries is anonymously bald-capped and greasepainted along with two other guys. Born in Texas, he's a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, a musician and an aspiring filmmaker.
Andries dove into the Blue Man gene pool five years ago, during the show's Off Broadway run at the Astor Place Theatre.
I admit I have a hard time explaining to people just what the Blue Man show is. How do you describe it?
Shane Andries: I describe the show as a theatrical experience that uses comedy, technology, science, art, and music — that's a huge element — and all of that's used to create an atmosphere of connection and joy. On a higher level, Blue Man is sort of a commentary on our current world. That's why the show changes; we have to always keep it current with what's going on, because Blue Man is always having fun with our culture. A big theme in the new show is "people and their devices." Our obsession with iPhones and iPads, and the loss that we've all experienced with connectivity with each other. The finale piece is all about getting people to shed that mask and find that inner child, dance and find their inner bliss.
So who is Blue Man?
Shane Andries: Well, he's kind of great for that, because he's a bit of an innocent, but a hero at the same time. And there's no ego involved with the Blue Man, so we try to get the people to like the character and see things in a different way, and see the Blue Man's point of view.
People ask us if the Blue Man is an alien. We don't like that term at all because it just makes it seem different. Really, the Blue Man is very similar to us. It's more or less a dimension of us. He is kind of an everyman. He's definitely from a different place, but that's really the only label we like to attach to it. We don't like to define where he's from or anything. It brings out all these things that we think about, but somehow the Blue Man has a fun way of looking at things, and people are able to laugh at it.
As an actor, you're pulling a lot from your bag of talents, aren't you? Isn't there a lot of mime in the show?
Shane Andries: It's definitely non-verbal, but I didn't have any mime training or anything. We're not creating the whole miming thing with hands and whatnot. But Blue Man does have its roots in vaudeville and mime, and I think it opens up a lot of doors to us. What's great is, all those things are there, but then it's all just something completely different. It wasn't like a direct path to the character; it evolved over the years.
The history of non-verbal theater, silent comedy, three-person comedy ... you know, the creators of the show did not start out just wanting three Blue Men. When they were creating the show, people were leaving, because they didn't think it was going to take off or whatever .... So it ended up being Chris, Matt and Phil. That's a long story short, but it was kind of a magical thing that it worked out with three Blue Men. Because if you look at the history of comedy, things are done in threes.
One Blue Man can do one thing, another can do another thing, and one kind of goes off track. And the other two look at him like he's doesn't know what's going on. I don't know if it would work if it was four, or five, or six. Or two, for that matter.
How did you yourself enter the world of the Blue Men?
Shane Andries: I grew up playing drums. My father was a drummer; my parents had seen the show when I was in high school. I went to drama school to study acting, and right when I got out of school I started thinking about it. And I was like, "You know, I might be able to do that show." Because it was kind of this hybrid of drummers and actors.
Most of us are drama school guys that play music. We have a few guys that were purely musicians — they put on the makeup, and after some training they were good Blue Men.
That's how I got into it — I thought, what an opportunity to do both things that I really enjoy. I'd never pursued drumming in a professional capacity — I always thought it'd be a hobby for me — and the last five years I've been a part of the show, it's been a job, which has been great.
How different is it from night to night? Is there room for improv and how do you handle surprises?
Shane Andries: It changes drastically. I've never used this analogy before, and it may be really stupid: Pretend that someone says you can say the alphabet any way you want to say it, but you had to say the alphabet A to Z. But you never had to say it the same way.
And that's kind of how the show is. The scenes go in a certain order, but the way we do it and the improv that can happen — especially when we bring somebody from the audience onstage — we never know what's gonna happen.
We have our marks that we try to hit, but the great thing about the character is there is so much room for improv.
Almost anything can go wrong, but as long as you respond to it as a Blue Man, it'll be fine. Anything can happen.