I didn’t really expect to become a superstar by just hanging out. I knew I had to go for it. One of my first big steps was sending my resume and picture to Casting@blueman.com. I’ve sent out hundreds of billions of resumes and no one likes to respond, but the blue man casting team did. About a week after my email, they responded by asking if I would be available June 11, 2012 in New York City. It was mid-May and I was in Honolulu.
“OF COURSE I will be in New York City on June 11th!” I wrote back. My amazing friend works for an airline so I immediately called her and she got me a standby plane ticket for cheap…well, cheap-ish. Standby is rough. It took about 5 different flights and a total of about 24 hours of travel time to get there, but I finally ended up in the big city.
From the start, I was very skeptical of this opportunity. I mean, there are something like 60 Blue Men in the entire company? And how many people audition? I assume that every 6’ tall athletic person in the world has auditioned. After some quick math, I made the conservative estimate that between 1 and 2 billion people have auditioned. This was a pipe dream, at best.
As I told some close friends and family that I was going to audition, I was STUNNED by the positive feedback at first. Then it became ridiculous. Every single person that I told said “OH MY! YOU ARE SOOOOO A BLUE MAN!” I was told that I look like one, that my mannerisms are similar. I was told that my drumming skills are way beyond what they need. Someone even told me that I’d be so amazing that they’d probably give me my own color. I was a sure thing.
Seriously? How on earth am I supposed to get this gig? The overwhelming advice from friends, family and working actors was this: Just be yourself and do your thing. I should’ve questioned this advice, as “being yourself” seems pretty foolish when you’re going for an acting gig, but I let it boost my confidence anyway.
I read a few articles on what Blue Man Group auditions are like and I concluded that there would be a quick drumming audition followed by a brief audition where I would have to be animated and maybe tell some stories from my childhood. Being myself actually seemed like it might work.
I woke up nice and early the morning of my audition. Taking into account the time adjustment from Honolulu to New York, it was like waking up at 2AM. My girlfriend and I went to Starbucks and got some of their crack-laced coffee. It helped.
I walked into the very understated building with the small “Blue Man Group” sticker on the buzzer. I felt like I was walking into someone’s apartment as I came through the open door on the 3rd floor. There was a little sheet that said, “please come into our lounge area and fill out an audition form.”
There were three people sitting there. I gave them a quick hello and one of them looked at me and said “What?”
I repeated, “Hi, How are you?”
He said he was fine and then went back to his conversation where he was talking about his 12 years of acting experience and his great drumming skills. He didn’t specify, but it was implied that he’d seen the Blue Man Group somewhere between 10 and 450 times. There was a prop in the hallway that he immediately identified and described the exact moment of the show when it was used. Very knowledgeable fellow.
After a moment or two, the woman who initially emailed me, April, walked in and sat down with us. She was pretty and her mannerisms were kind. She joined in the conversation for a brief moment and then said she was going to make sure they were ready for us. She went down the hallway, opened a door, then came back and said, “Ok, follow me!”
As we walked in, two men introduced themselves: Mark and Tim. They were extremely welcoming. They somehow managed to take away any nervousness that I had. I suppose the fact that they are professional performers may have had something to do with that. Maybe that’s the Blue Man x-factor that they’re looking for. At any rate, they made me feel very comfortable.
We sat down on chairs lined up against the wall and Tim stood in front of us.
“Ok, thanks so much for coming. We’re going to have you do two deceptively simple exercises. The first one: Start off stage, come into the center here, and personally greet everyone in the room. Don’t do anything clever, or memorable, just simply meet eyes, and greet everyone. At best, you’ll feel a little vulnerable and it’ll feel like something is exchanged between you and the audience. Any questions?”
“Without the use of words, right?” Boom, it just came out of me. Why on earth would I ask that? That’s a terrible question. I could hear the thoughts of 12-year-actor: “Puh…Amateur.”
“That’s correct, no words,” Tim politely and respectfully answered.
12-year-actor’s name was called and when he greeted me it was a scary moment. I felt like I was looking into the eyes of a mass murderer. It was frightening. Maybe he was actually trying to scare me. Touché.
When it came to be my turn, I was completely free of nerves. I walked out, looked at everyone, greeted them. It felt wonderful. Not wonderful in that I was thinking “Oh! I NAILED IT!” but wonderful in that it was such a beautiful feeling. For that small window of time, I was given the opportunity to connect with those six people in a very different way than I’m used to. The longer I stood there, the more comfortable I became. I seriously loved it.
After we all completed that first exercise, Mark stood up to describe the next one. “Ok, so now we have a little scene for you. Imagine that you’re a 1st grader and it’s the first day of school, but you’re now at a new school. You’re a bit nervous but you’re pretty sure you know where you’re going. When you walk into what you think is your classroom, you realize that it’s the 6th grader’s room, with all the big, older kids in there. You look around, you try to figure out what to do, but you notice your sister’s best friend in the back. And you and her are buds. You look at her and she gives you the courage to turn around and walk out of the room. You can use a member of the audience as the best friend if you’d like.”
“Ok, James, let’s have you go first,” Tim said.
Ah, crap. The whole “be yourself” advice was just exposed as extremely flawed. I walked off stage, took a second and walked out to begin my scene. I wasn’t pretending to be a 1st grader. I don’t know what I was trying to do. It definitely wasn’t riveting acting though, I can assure you.
After I walked off stage, Tim immediately commented, “James, that was a bit fast for all of us. Can you try it again, but really show us each stage of your emotion. We really need to see you take in your surroundings and that moment when your sister’s friend gives you the courage to turn around and walk out of the room.”
I respond, “Ok, is this, like a hallway, and I walk into the room here?” I’m such an idiot.
Mark says, “Yeah, that’s the door right there.”
Tim says, “It doesn’t really matter, just anywhere.”
Oh jeez. The second time around, I slowed it down significantly. I looked around, tried to figure out exactly what room I walked into. I was scared, I felt alone. Everyone was looking at me. How am I going to get out of this? I spotted my sister’s friend. I looked into her eyes. I used Tim for the role of my sister’s friend. The second I looked into his eyes, the scene was over for me. Whatever acting I was doing was finished. Now it was just me, staring at Tim. The audition stopped. Everyone disappeared from the room. I just stared at Tim and he stared right back.
This might make me sound a bit like a crazy person, but as he was looking back at me, Tim was very clearly communicating to me. With loads of respect and encouragement, his eyes said, “you just aren’t ready yet.”
“I know,” I shot back at him with a mutual respect. I let out a big sigh and turned around to walk off stage.
I walked back to my seat and Tim said, “Way to take direction, James, that was much better.”
I nodded in response and sat back down. After the other three went, they asked us to go back into the lounge for just a moment while they had a small discussion.
They came out and asked to see one of the other three for a moment and told the rest of us that we were done for the day.
The instant my feet hit the New York City concrete outside of the Blue Man headquarters, I felt like I let myself down. I really messed up. It took about 24 hours for that feeling to go away, but when it did, I had a whole different set of incredible emotions. It was an amazing opportunity. Thanks Tim, Mark and April!
An article about the beauty of failing will be coming soon.