Steven Wendt begins his work day by donning a skintight cap, then coating his head with blue grease paint.
“We take about a hockey puck’s worth of the stuff — it’s grease you could lube ball bearings in a car with — and smear that all over us. It’s like a thick Vaseline,” says the Kansas City native, who transforms into one of the bald-headed, indigo-skinned performers in the trio Blue Man Group. “It’s totally weird and ridiculous, and, sometimes I’m like, ‘What is happening? How did I get here?’”
All the more jarring is that Wendt gets to help launch the troupe’s national theatrical tour in his hometown a mere two years after watching the group for the first time himself.
“I remember forgetting I was seeing a show,” he recalls. “It’s not a typical show in that you’re following a story. As an audience member, you can decide what you think it means. I was just taken along on a ride. I love that you see everything that’s happening. It’s very transparent.”
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Part mimed performance art, part bombastic rock concert, Blue Man Group delivers a distinctive experience. It leans heavily on music, with the three members tackling atypical instruments with names such as tubulum and drumbone. But their multimedia show is most exemplified by the tribal rhythms generated by banging on PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipes.
“Each set of PVCs in every city is a little different,” says Wendt, who was given two months of private drum lessons upon landing the gig. “They’re percussive instruments, but you don’t hit them as much as draw them out. You have to bounce off the PVCs to pull the note out.”
The 28-year-old artist considers himself “equal parts actor and musician.” He says the anonymous nature of the Blue Man allows him to delve even deeper into the spirit of live entertainment.
“If you’re a performer who’s willing to take huge risks and put the boundaries of the show on the line, that’s what it requires,” he says. “We’re always trying to push the boundaries of what the Blue Man character can do. How far can we go before he becomes too human or egotistical? So you have to be a performer/musician who doesn’t want to be the star of the show but is committed to risking everything. In some cases you have to risk losing your job to find something amazing to bring to the show.”
Wendt (no relation to “Cheers” star George Wendt) inaugurated his theatrical path with a production of “Footloose” while attending Shawnee Mission North High School. During his senior year, he transferred to a performance arts boarding school in Natick, Mass. He eventually earned a degree in acting from California Institute of the Arts.
While staging a hand-shadow puppet show for a Japanese corporate event in Las Vegas, Wendt ended up at the same hotel as the Blue Man Group. Even though he had previously auditioned in Los Angeles for a Blue Man slot, this offered him his first opportunity to see the act live. Since then, he’s become a cast member in New York and Orlando (where he now lives), and he’s also played on the Norwegian Epic cruise ship’s version.
Currently, the show is based in five U.S. cities and in Berlin, Germany, in addition to the national tour. What started in 1987 as the brainchild of founders Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink has swelled to employ more than 50 Blue Men.
“I’ve met all the founders,” Wendt says. “They’re present in training and in directing the shows. They provide such smart, simple explanations for things.”
Wendt is one of four to six members who rotate off-nights during each venue’s showcase.
“The Blue Men come out of an inherent human concept,” Wendt says. “I think of the show as an exploration of what it is to be a person deep down. To have curiosity and a sense of community and fellowship. You’ll see people in the audience come out and expect to see a regular show, then they spend the entire time just looking at each other and laughing.”
But, amusingly, Wendt’s favorite color is green.
“People don’t buy me blue things,” he says. “They know I have enough blue in my life.”
The Blue Man Group performs Tuesday, Sept. 9, through Sunday, Sept. 14, at Starlight Theatre. Tickets range from $10-$95 through kcstarlight.com.