by Emily Hall

The Blue Man Group is an interesting test case for the way subculture migrates into the mainstream world. Back in 1987, Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink used to get together in a kind of salon to talk about their disillusionment with the inflated prices and egos of the art world. Their discussions evolved into street performances and happenings, including the Funeral for the 80's, in New York City's Central Park.

From these counterculture roots grew a successful show, with productions in Boston, Chicago, and now Las Vegas. There's a traveling act, which recently played at Area 2 at the Gorge, and an audio CD with a second album in the works, and the Blue Men now own the theater in New York City where their show has been running for 12 years. The closest (if inaccurate) analogy for what Goldman, Stanton, and Wink have created is a franchise (they perform only occasionally), and by all measures, the BMG art of dissent has become part of the argument that is general culture.

But last week's open-call auditions for various BMG productions proved that there's still something weird and indefinable about the BMG, and it lies somewhere in the strange specific qualities that their casting team is looking for. The potentials were led down through Byzantine passages into a room under the theater, where they donned latex bald-caps and posed for pictures. They were instructed to look at the camera as if they'd never seen it before, which at least half the time resulted in that well-known pop-eyed stare.

From here, those who didn't meet the physical requirements (a certain slender build, between 5' 10" and 6' 1," other ineffable qualities) were dismissed, and the rest put in a little holding room--through more twisting tunnels, reminding me more than once of that scene in Spinal Tap--to wait for the drumming audition; only a few would be called back for the acting audition. There, nervousness manifested itself in a kind of general glumness. All but one were men; there has in fact been one Blue Babe, in the Boston show.

"Any actors here?" I asked. There was a group guffaw. Most were drummers; one, in fact, played for a time with Gruntruck, others for bands I've never heard of. (So much for the everlasting pop life.)

Should you possess the right odd combination of qualities and talents, you too could be a Blue Man--just ask the one lucky soul who is heading to New York for Blue Man training.