They were so blue

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I sat down with two very talented musicians from the Blue Man group band. Anthony Riscica is a percussionist with an affinity for jazz music. A product of a drumming family, he decided at 16 that his passion was to pound on the skins. Jesse Nolan, the music director of the Blue Man band, seemed the most passionate, and captivated me with his poetic descriptions of the show. The Blue Man group is now playing in Orlando, Florida. For Tickets, check out the website at http://www.blueman.com.

 

Anthony, what were your influences behind becoming a drummer? Have you always  

wanted to be a drummer?  

A: Yeah. Drummers were always in my house. My father was a drummer, and I grew

up with them. There are pictures of me in my diaper sitting behind the drum set. I

didn’t always play them well. I played at 3, but I didn’t start taking lessons until I

was 16. I would just come home from school and pound on the drums.

 

Favorite kinds of music?  

Jesse: Anthony and I come from very similar backgrounds so we will probably say the same

people but I came from a jazz background so my influences were Alvin Williams,

Tony Jones. I would say from a pop standpoint, I have been a Beatles fan my whole

life so Ringo [Starr] has a special place in my heart

 

What’s it like traveling? What is the worse and best part about traveling?  

J: It’s a lot of fun. You know, … moving around so much can get confusing

at times, but I think the worst and the best parts are the same thing and for me its

sort of like the adventure of it. You know, sometimes it is really fun and exciting, and

other times you get snowed in Montgomery, Alabama.

A: Or snowed out.

J: Yeah, but its fun. One of the great things about it is going around and doing this show

for different audiences because this show is so much about the audiences’

interaction with the characters and, you know, we look to the audience and like a

fourth character, a fourth Blue Man. So getting to do the show in different cities and

different venues, you get to feel the vibe of the place by the people who come and be

apart of the show. That’s really one of the best things about doing it.

 

That has to be different than just sight seeing.  

J: Yes, of course. I mean when you have 25,000 of the locals come out, you know

we also invite people from the audience. The Blue Man pick people of the audience to

come and participate as some of the pieces in the show. So it’s great to have them

actually come up on stage and have a local citizen participate in the show and that makes the show unique each time, it changes each time.

  

Do you change the show?  

A: Yeah, the show that you see on stage is definitely affected by the crowds’ reaction to

certain parts. We will sometimes elongate a certain part if a certain crowd

reacted to it. We play with that a little bit. So that is why the show is different each

night. But the crowd definitely has something to do with it. And another thing

to is that most of the places that we go, we have a meet and greet after, and the

people come up and they say “Thank you for coming here” … and that is something you don’t get in the sit-down shows because it’s always in New York in the same theater so, nobody thanks you for coming. No “Thank you for

coming.”

J: Some of the cities that we come to are like, we meet a lot of people who say I’ve

wanted to see Blueman group for so long, you know and they don’t live near one of

the cities so to have us come through their town is exciting.

Do you guys wear costumes on stage?  

J: We wear ultraviolet costumes, and we wear ultraviolet face paint. We perform up

in what we call “the lofts.” We are visible to the audience, we are lit with a blacklight,

and we look two-dimensional, sort of ethereal. Our job is to act as the shaman, kind of

watching over everything, warriors.

A: Yeah, spiritual. It’s very tribal. We’ve got the tribal face .

J: But we are really meant to observe the action. From where we are sitting, we can

see the Bluemen and the audience, and we are the only people that have that view,

as kind of like that omnipotent narrator. That is really our job: to

make that musical score happens by taking that into account given everything that

we can see. If there is something happening in the audience, the Blueman, or

something is on the stage, their interacting together like Anthony said, they take a

moment longer because they are doing something with the audience. We have to

make that moment longer with the music or shorter.

 

So you adjust accordingly every night?  

J: Every minute. Every few seconds we are always adjusting to what’s happening.

The pressure is on. 

J: But that’s what keeps it fresh when you’ve done it 6, 7, 8,  thousand times. You

know when you do it that much, you know because of the uniqueness of the show,

the way that we have to perform, [encompassing] all of these elements. It keeps it

fresh, unlike playing off a piece of music in an orchestra. It’s a new experience every

single time we do it.

How do you all come together?  

A: Well, you get hired, whether it’s a Blue Man or in the band, and you get the job and

there is someone who trains you, someone who has been doing it for 10 years before

you got into the company, and they show the parts piece by piece from the first note

to the last note that we play. And it’s kind of divided up into sections. So the sections

we get taught, these little sections, that go along with certain things that the Blue Man

are going to do in the show but then each one of those sections elongated. But … we are literally taught sitting there on a drum set with the guy who is

teaching us. “Here’s the part” and you look at it, internalize it, and then he says “OK,

play it.” And you play it back for him, and each part is kind of like that: here it is,

learn it, got it, on to the next part. And then they throw you in the show.

J: Piece by piece you learn the show. You go in and do a little bit more each time.

So you have to make that turn around very quickly.  

A: Everything in this company is–I mean as far as performing in your job is

concerned is–you either do it, or you cant. And they are good about picking the

people who can do this. It’s a little nerve racking when you get up there but that’s

the breaking point. If you can get through that then your in the show.

J: And doing the show, you’re still learning, because you start to lean how

to read the Blue Man and you start to learn how to interpret certain movement and

certain moments, and you get better at internalizing the music and all of these things that are happening to the point where it’s sort of like the calmness settles in and you

can focus on the performance. You are not worried about anything. You kind of get

into that zone eventually after doing it a hundred times. There is no better practice

than just doing.

2 COMMENTS

  1. “There is no better practice than just doing.” What a great quote that can be applied to all aspects of life. I don’t know if I could bring myself to do 6-8,000 of those shows, though! I would imagine it gets pretty hot up there. Did they mention anything about that?

  2. Thanks for commenting! They did not mention anything about it getting hot up there. They did say though that they get the best seat in the house. :)