In the late 1980’s Phil Stanton and 2 of his friends began giving free performances on the streets of New York City. “We had a character idea,” said Stanton of the group’s early days. “We added to each characters experience, and it grew and ”it still continues to grow.” And indeed these three blue men did grow– into a wildly successful internationally recognized industry of their own. And did you hear they are even now opening The Blue School?!
While it may seem juvenile that three men painted electric blue from head to toe, who splash paint and water, make sounds and music with hollow tubes, and stuff their mouths full of a wide variety of food like marshmallows and assorted cereals can be this wildly successful, the story of how and why their act came into being is as worthy of a case study in entrepreneurial artistry as one could find.
Creative experimentation has always been a core part of Phil Stanton’s development as an actor, musician, and innovator. “I grew up singing and playing instruments in church. Stanton’s father was an Assembly of God minister. I tried the trumpet, the piano and the guitar. But I never became good enough because I wasn’t disciplined enough to practice,” he says.
After high school, Stanton worked for a year at White’s Hardware in downtown Savannah, then took courses at Armstrong State College, with the intention of becoming a jet pilot. “I studied math because I wanted to fly jets,” he said. “Theater was one of the farthest things from my mind.” Stanton worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during summer and Christmas breaks.
“I was in the geology section. We traveled around Georgia and the Carolina’s, drilling holes in the ground,” he said. After a year and a half, Stanton veered in a new direction ”northwest”and back into theater arts.
“I decided to go to Evangelical University in Springfield, Missouri – a liberal arts college of the Assembly of God,” he said. “I went there to be a music major — I felt like I was going into the ministry like my older brother. It was there Stanton began to experiment with theater, taking some classes to explore other ways to make an impact on people. He “started doing things in the drama department” at Evangelical and graduated in 1983 with a double major in Biblical studies and theater.
Talk about an interesting double major?
Shortly after he graduated, Phil moved to New York City to study acting in a “more serious” way. “It took me a while to figure out how to stay warm,” he said of his first days in Manhattan. Phil, like many in the arts, waited tables; first in a hotel, then in an executive dining room and then for the Glorious Food catering company. The first person he met at Glorious Food was Chris Wink, who was to become a fellow Blue Man.
Wink introduced Stanton to his long-time buddy, Matt Goldman, and the three were soon staging “happenings” that evolved into the Blue Man Group performances.
In 1990 they created a show at the LaMama experimental theater in New York’s East Village, and that led, a year later, to the opening of Tubes, the Blue Man show staged at the off-Broadway Astor Place Theater that has been running since 1991! ( Considered the longest running show today!)
In “Tubes,” the Blue Men drummed on PVC pipe, stuffed Capt’n Crunch cereal in their mouths while improvising a symphony of amplified chomping, and brought audience members onstage for a banquet of Twinkies. With Goldman doing the tossing, Stanton caught paint balls in his mouth and squirted their contents onto a canvas to create works of art.
While Blue Man Group performances always have been aimed at entertaining their audiences, for Stanton, “the whole thing is about community.” The Blue Man”, he said, “is born out of the human need to be with other people.” According to co-creator Matt Goldman, “Blue Man Group, started as an outrageous idea: We wanted to inspire creativity in both our audiences and ourselves. We wanted to speak “up” to the intelligence of our audience members while reaching “in” to their childlike innocence. We wanted to create a special kind of company, a place where people continually learn and grow and treat each other with just a little more consideration than is usually evident out in the ‘real world.’ We wanted to recombine influences to create something new. And we wanted to have a good time doing it.”
I think they understand the meaning of innovating through artistry? Don’t you?
Reviewers have speculated that the cobalt blue character is an alien, and that might be so, said Stanton, but he’s not from “the mother ship.” “He’s an alien from inside part of us ”very human, an abstract alien,” Stanton said. “He’s come for a reason, and it’s to remind us of the need to be together with other people.”
“I felt like the experiences I had growing up in church were really powerful,” he said. “I’ve tried to capture that in a way that doesn’t refer to any type of religion ”just the humanity part. Producing a sense of community “has always been our major focus,” Stanton said. “That, and also this idea to try to break down the walls that we create to get by, to get through our days.”
Another link in Phil’s creative development came again from his father; he was a builder and “kind of an architect,” Stanton said. “He had 10 or 12 churches around the country built from his designs, including Radiant Life here,” said Stanton of his dad, Cameron. “I inherited his love of building things.”
And, said Stanton, during his stint as a salesman at White’s Hardware for a year before moving to New York City, he learned “a lot about tools and metal working.”
So what can we learn from Blue Man Group? Here are a few of my thoughts. I am sure you will come up with more…
- No idea is too outrageous to consider if you test it and it resonates with your audience.
- While there is absolutely a role for highly perfecting one’s artistic talents, it is interestingly absent here and yet Blue Man Group is profoundly creative, artistic and successful!
- Is there such a thing as over thinking or over working the highest purpose and best use for your gifts? Maybe the answer is right in front of you…
- Learn how to use ALL your talents and experiences in life to create an environment in which you can thrive.
- The serendipity of life– or even a seemingly dead end temporary job at a catering company- can bring you all the people and resources you need to create a life long path of success with your artistry.
- Where there is passion money flows.
- One great idea can blossom 100 fold if you have the persistence, know how and drive to see where it can take you.
Blue Man has evolved into an organization of 350 people, with 30 Blue Men giving their avant garde performances in packed theaters in the Big Apple, Boston, Chicago and Las Vegas. Blue Man Group also has appeared on The Tonight Show eight times; their CD Audio, was nominated for a Grammy award. And now they have a school… What’s next?
Are you ready to learn how to use your creative and artistic gifts to make a living? Apply now to TheIAE.com