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In Fresno’s ‘Speechless’ tour, this not-so-silent man only has eyes for ‘Blue’

Steven Wendt is practicing slide guitar when I call him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to find out the secrets of being Blue. Is the guitar featured in the Blue Man Group’s “Speechless” national tour, which opens Wednesday, Nov. 6, for a two-night run Saroyan Theatre? Not at all.

One of the characteristics of being in Blue Man Group, it seems, is a Renaissance-jack-of-all-trades approach to entertainment.

Pictured above: The Blue Man Group’s ‘Speechless’ tour plays Nov. 6-7 in Fresno. Photo: Blue Man Group

“I like to keep busy, for better or for worse,” he says. “Sometimes I have too many talents.”

That statement is not a boast but more an awkward confession, as if Wendt is sorry for taking up my time by detailing all the cool things he can do to keep an audience enthralled. Modesty seems to be another Blue trait. Wendt barely has room on his resume to fit it all: singing, acting, dancing, piano, guitar, banjo, ukulele, French, African drumming, bench jewelry, juggling, NATI Scuba Cert., teaching music.

Plus, Wendt is really, really into puppets. He’s a professional hand shadow master, something he got into at Cal Arts, where he received a BFA. (It’s one of only two places in the country where you can get a master’s degree in puppetry.) In fact, he will be taking a leave from Blue Man next year to open a solo show of abstract video feedback puppetry titled “This and That.”

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In case you’re wondering, Blue Men can be downright chatty, contrary to their silent demeanor while performing. (“I talk way more when I’m not on stage,” he says. “I have to make up for it.”)

All the eclectic skills are a given for a member of Blue Man Group, the $100 million international franchise whose shows famously feature trios of bald, earless performance artists with neutral expressions slathered in blue paint. Known for wacky audience interactions, strange musical instruments, booming drums, playing with food and other surprises, the always silent Blue Men make connecting with the audience a prime goal.

For years, critics tried to pigeonhole the franchise as an avant-garde offering, but its widespread success — which includes albums, television commercials, a rock concert parody tour and even a book, “Blue Man World” — makes it much more rooted in the populist traditions of vaudeville, the New York Times noted in a 2016 story headlined “How Blue Turned to Green” marking the group’s 25th anniversary.

This new show, “Speechless,” is a baby Blue endeavor compared to the original 1991 production. When I talk with Wendt in Cheyenne, the team has just completed its 50th show. Wendt says that surveys of fans indicated that many wanted to see new material in upcoming shows. About 80% of “Speechless” is new, he says.

“This is a trial,” he says. “We are trying out tons of new material. We’re constantly making new adjustments. There’s a lot more improv.”


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Whatever the content, one thing is for sure in the upcoming Broadway in Fresno production: Audience participation will be a part of the show. In previous incarnations of Blue Man, the act known as The Feast — involving Twinkies and a participant plucked from the crowd — was popular. A new addition to “Speechless” is an act titled The Match, which tries to bring two audience members together.

There’s also a segment that uses random things the audience has brought to the theater to make music.

“If somebody brought a trumpet,” he says, “have them hold it up. We would totally use it.”

Blue Man Group

The Match is an act in the new Blue Man Group ‘Speechless’ tour.

Wendt has been a Blue Man for eight years, and he has fine-tuned his ability to pick audience members who might be a little reluctant at first to participate (which is always good for a laugh) but are ultimately up for a good time.

“If they really don’t want to go, we try to respect that,” he says.

Not everyone can display the requisite Blue Man sensibilities. That’s one reason why it’s such an exclusive club. There are 45 active Blue Men today, and becoming one is a daunting task. Auditions are arduous. Training takes months. After three days of callbacks, Wendt got the job, but then was sent off for two months of drum training.

Now he’s a veteran, having performed on cruise ships and in cities all over. All this time as a Blue Man has helped him embrace being a collective performer instead of a “star.”

Everything about the gig reinforces the anonymity of the experience: the features-obscuring blue paint; the lack of dialogue; even the lack of character names. In “Speechless,” the three cast members are known as Perc, for Percussion; Video; and Synth, for Synthesizer.

There’s no star of the show, Wendt says. Actors with personalities like that don’t want the job. It’s really about being a team player.

I joke about the Blue Men being almost like a collective consciousness, perhaps a more colorful version of the Borg (the alien race with a hive mind from “Star Trek”). Wendt laughs but doesn’t contradict me. The culture of the show includes the charge of “three as one,” he reminds me. And he more than once reminds me of the “Blue Man family,” of which he is a part.

For him, the most important thing is the simplest one.

“I never met a Blue Man I didn’t like,” he says.


Show info

‘Blue Man Group Speechless Tour,’ 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, and Thursday, Nov. 7, Saroyan Theatre. Tickets are $25-$75.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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