The Blue Man Group is an artist group that performs in blue masks. Member Nadim Helow breaks the silence: the captain of the Blue Man Group tells the story behind the cult show.

Helow reveals the secret of how a Blue Man actually turns blue. He also tells how the corona pandemic almost led to the permanent end of the show. And Helow gives tips for performing in front of an audience.

The Blue Man Group show was visited by over 40 million people. In Germany alone there are almost five million. How would you describe the show format to someone who hasn’t heard of it?

Nadim Helow: Difficult, because we can’t clearly attribute ourselves to any genre. I’ll try “performance theatre”. It has no story in the sense of beginning, middle and end, but it is an encounter of three mystical beings with the audience. There’s a lot of excitement in that, and it’s our job as creatives to pour this excitement into a dramaturgy that captivates us for an evening. These creatures are alien to the audience and in the course of the evening you take them to heart. This is exactly what happens from the perspective of the three characters, by the way. That also means that they see a strange being in us and try to understand it. What remains in the end is a fascination between us all that inspires us to look at everything we see in the world in a new way.

What is the story behind these three “blue men”?

Helow: The Blue Man doesn’t have a story in that way, the character doesn’t have an age either, and because she’s always lived with humanity. But the history of the organization of the “Blue Man Group” begins in New York in the late 1980s. At that time, performance artists met for so-called happenings. In other words, to events that have primarily caused a sensation in the art and culture scene. It was a larger group of people – not just three – who painted themselves blue back then and saw themselves as urban shamans. They were looking for a connection between the isolated individuals in a big city like New York.

How do you have to imagine such an art performance from back then?

Helow: These were experiments on the streets of Manhattan, in galleries or studios, which were supposed to follow a script or a little dramaturgy at most. They were rough ideas and concepts that sometimes aroused less, sometimes more interest. Blue Man Group didn’t start out in theater and there wasn’t anyone who said then that Blue Man Group would do theatre.

During a performance, the art products or products from the eighties were burned. With this statement they wanted to bring an era of trash art to an end. This was intended as a commentary on pop culture and pop art. Then the Blue Man formed Club No. This was an outdoor performance where the Blue Man staged a club at a doorway that actually didn’t exist. But everyone wanted to go in there – although there was nothing! The line of people kept getting longer because everyone wanted to get into the club. That’s how the Blue Man tried to poke fun at the zeitgeist.

How did the blue color come about on the Blue Men? Is that makeup?

Helow: The three Blue Mans have been genetically modified over years of workshops so that they always look like this. No, seriously: There are three performers who transform into this mystical figure in about 45 minutes. I understand as a viewer you want to know what that is and how it’s done. At the same time, it’s important to us that the audience doesn’t lose this childish fascination, and that’s why we never put the technical aspect in the foreground. We never talked about it for the first twenty years and prefer to keep it mystical. It really isn’t all that interesting once you know it.

How much make-up is used there monthly? And how much make-up remover oil do you need afterwards?

Helow: by the liter and by the kilo! To answer your question in numbers: almost 103 kilograms of blue make-up are used every month! And accordingly, it takes more than four liters of make-up remover oil a month to remove this special color again.

Your program lives from the interaction with the audience. Has the corona pandemic changed the character of the show?

Helow: Very interesting question because the pandemic regulations have thwarted our core idea on many levels. After all, it was always about living out a connection with people, which was not allowed in times of social distancing.

My spontaneous feeling was: That’s it! Never again… How are we supposed to create a show that’s not trying to do anything other than connect people? Due to the Corona measures, we had to cancel any direct interaction with the audience. Before, we had people from the audience on stage or we just went into the audience. We were originally able to touch people and meet them up close. All of that was suddenly taken from us!

We had to develop new ideas out of necessity. It was frustrating at first, but in the end we made a virtue out of necessity. Interestingly, we managed to still create a direct encounter with the audience. The Blue Man always asks questions of the audience and also works with looks. That kept working! We also resort to technical means, using long poles to film people or take close-ups that are then projected onto the video walls. We can also hold microphones to people in the same way to listen to their thoughts.

What is your advice for dealing with stage fright?

Helow: Good preparation and don’t try to interpret stage fright as an obstacle or problem. You can achieve peak performance with stage fright. It’s just a process. You should therefore enjoy this feeling of excitement and nervousness!

What do you have to consider when you go on stage as a team? What is particularly important when performing as a team?

Helow: The weakest link in the team determines how your overall performance will be later on! That’s why you have to work as a team in such a way that the weakest member will shine the most. Then you really are a team! Don’t work against each other, but with each other. There are three of us on stage as the Blue Man, together with the band. Together we are as strong as the weakest link in this chain. So there’s no point in pretending to know anything better. Therefore: How can I play on stage in such a way that my partner and colleague shines? Then this will be best.

In your opinion, what are the deadly sins of group performances in front of an audience?

Helow: You shouldn’t compete. The stage is not the right place to do that. Of course, the industry is full of competition and envy. But you have to find the framework where all these things can be discussed humanely. At least not on stage! The stage is a sacred place! You have to behave worthy of them there.

The stage as a special place where there should be no competitive struggles?

Helow: Yes, exactly. Even if the roles were competing. Actors compete in their roles but not as actors. It’s not about who can demonstrate their acting skills better because nobody wants to see that. An actor has to leave that at home. And if there are any conflicts, they have to be settled backstage.

Basically, that your own ego shouldn’t be on stage?

Helow: Exactly. It’s a term we hear every week. The Blue Man has no ego. But the actors all have huge egos! That’s clear, because without an ego you almost can’t go on stage. You probably need a kind of need or an addiction to recognition. But the character has no ego. We always give each other feedback. Sometimes criticism too. In this way we want to leave the ego behind on stage as much as possible.

Almost everyone has to appear in front of an audience at some point and present something. What are your rhetoric tips for getting a standing ovation from the audience?

Helow: It’s important to always know what the key message is. In other words, being able to say in one sentence what the core message of a presentation is. Being able to express that in one sentence – and then deriving many strands from it is important. One must never lose sight of this goal! I’m not good at it myself, by the way. I only know that in theory, I get bogged down far too often.

There is no guarantee of a standing ovation at the end. There is no guarantee for a successful show. Not with us either. All we can do is create the framework conditions so that a successful evening can take place. A remainder in the theater always remains inexplicable and mystical.