I was temping at a law firm, stocking the goodies that helped lawyers get through their miserably long days. My supervisor told me to be peppy when I brought them their Diet Cokes and cappuccinos, their Toblerones, Mrs. Field’s and macadamia nuts. But peppiness not being my forte, I performed my duties sullenly, and often snuck off to kick back and browse through my ever-growing stack of New Yorkers while consuming the lawyers’ snacks and dreaming of a better life, one in which I had a more enticing answer to the question I was hating more every day, What do you do?
Munching on some Amaretini cookies one day while reclining in my storage room hideout, I came across a short and sweet ad in the Village Voice: “Blue Man Group seeks Blue Men. If you are 5’10”-6’, have drumming and acting experience, please contact.” That was me! I could be a Blue Man. At last a job that merited the full extent of my peppiness. I wanted in the worst way to be one of them, the blue Marx Brothers, from outer space.
I sent a note to the casting agent, describing my drumming skills and a stint doing experimental theater in college. She spotted my potential and called me in for a look-see.
On stage at the Astor Place Theater, I demonstrated that I could drum and catch grapes in my mouth and do those cool little Blue Man things. Then a bigger challenge: an improvisation with the Group’s understudy. We circled each other onstage. He pressed a grape to my hand. Thinking fast, I rolled it down his arm and back up to his hand. He and the stage manager must have sensed my feel for the character.
Next I was invited to chat with the Blue Men in their dressing room. I found out they were native New Yorkers like me. Though they had gone to Fieldston, which had rejected me and was miles above mine in the merciless New York City school pecking order, they weren’t really so different from me. I just knew that this was a job for me. The mantra in my head became, I could be a Blue Man.
Matt Goldman spoke first.
“Man, you have killer eyes! Are those color contacts?”
I told him that my eyes were totally real, pausing to let it sink in that mine were bluer than theirs. Though disappointed that he thought I’d resort to color enhancement to look more “blue,” I also found it encouraging. Blue was good, wasn’t it?
It was. The agent called a day later about the next step in the audition process: getting blue. I took the subway back down to Astor Place on a Saturday afternoon. All week I drove my family crazy banging on my drums. I also unsheathed a Method Acting technique called “emotional memory.” I found a memory which I thought got to the heart of the Blue Man character. It was a time when I had taken the wrong subway and wound up in a scary, anonymous part of the Bronx. I was as conspicuous as a Blue Man who’d fallen to Earth. This would help me see with fresh, Blue Man eyes. My key image, which would trigger the memory, was a gangbanger-ish looking guy who was smoking and staring at me with all his might while I waited for the return train. I had my image. I was ready.
Two other prospective candidates and I were ushered into the dressing room to get blue. I began the ritual by slicking my hair back, donning a skullcap, and getting my head, neck and face painted while I sat shirtless. Twenty minutes later, I completed the initiation by stepping into the black jumpsuit and boots.
Upstairs, they snapped a Polaroid of me. I hit some big drums and then the leader, Chris Wink, gave me my assignment: explore the stage as a Blue Man, moving “deliberately.” He said that even they didn’t know who the Blue Men really were. They had discovered their world spontaneously and just wanted to see how I inhabited it.
I switched on my emotional memory and stepped onto the stage as deliberately as possible. Suddenly the dread that I had felt on that subway platform came rushing back to me stronger than I had remembered. In a panic, I picked up the paddles at a tube drum and started flailing, unable to find rhythm or melody. I dropped the paddles and walked to the center of the stage. My dread intensified as I stood frozen in the glaring lights until Chris mercifully cut it short. He asked me and the other candidates to perform the scene from the show in which a Blue Man tries to paint a canvas with a marshmallow. He instructed us to improvise something new. I went first but couldn’t focus. The stage was the Bronx subway station. The Blue Men and producers watching from the dark theater had morphed into the scary locals ready to pounce. I wasn’t a Blue Man. I was a blue moron.
On my way down to the dressing room, I heard cheering and laughter during the next guy’s performance. I peeled off the skullcap and washed up. Staring back at me from the mirror was my pathetic pale face smeared with blue paint.
A few days later I got a call from the casting agent who broke the news. I had just one little request:
“Do you think you could send me that Polaroid they took? It’d be nice to have.”
She never sent it, but nothing can take away my one consolation: even paralyzed with stage fright, my eyes were still bluer than theirs.
Daniel Krieger is a writer and English teacher in New York. Read more stories at: danielkrieger.net.