Joining Blue Man Group a dream come true for one performer

The Blue Man Group founders often quote Penn & Teller’s Penn Jillette, who once told them, "You guys did the one thing we never could: You were able to clone yourselves."

And as the Blue Man Group looks to 10 years on the Strip next month, they’ve done them one better: The company now has devotees willing to jump through hoops — or at least wearing clown noses on subways — to be one of the clones.

Marc Roberts, one of the seven performers who rotate three spots at The Venetian, is a second-generation Blue Man. The first time he saw the show, he turned to his friend and said, "This is what I want to do with my life."

Now 29, he’s been living the dream for the past 5 1/2 years. "People always ask me, ‘What are you going to do next?’ " he says. "I always tell them, ‘This is what I wanted to do.’ My goal in life right now is just to smell the roses."

Roberts recalls the three-year climb from the time he first saw the troupe in 1999, on a weekend excursion to Chicago from college in Springfield, Mo.

Back then, college students could volunteer to usher for a night and watch the show free. Roberts "fell in love with it instantly. … I just remember leaving that show being so excited, almost tingly."

Roberts went back to college and changed his major from chemical engineering and criminal justice to theater performance.

His college years coincided with the Blue Man Group’s period of aggressive expansion. They scouted everywhere from marching band festivals to the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Alabama, where Roberts was thrilled to learn the troupe wanted to meet with him.

They told him to work on his drumming and remembered him when he auditioned the next year — and the year after that. Finally, he got a plane ticket for the six-week "camp," in New York, where 14 potential Blue Men were whittled down to two.

"Blue Man is so obtuse, so hard to articulate," he says, "and the audition’s very similar." Along the path, he was asked to do everything from pretending he was a child on a swing set to wearing the clown nose on the subway.

Roberts had that certain something, and after six months performing in the original East Village 300-seat theater in New York, he was shipped to Las Vegas.

The seven Blue Men who rotate at The Venetian are randomly scheduled for "Left," "Right" or "Center," and they’re deliberately mixed and matched to keep the show a little spontaneous.

"Sometimes an impulse hits you and you just have to follow it, and the other two guys have to follow the guy who follows the impulse," Roberts says.

A Blue Man possesses an unusual skill set, from mime to catching marshmallows by mouth. And then there’s the drumming.

Roberts explains the creators didn’t want "future robot songs." They wanted to juxtapose the robotic weirdness of the silent, curious bald men in black jumpsuits with "the most primal, earth-moving music, which was drums."

While a few Blue Men have crossed over from the band, others get by with faking it a bit. For "real" drummers, the technique is all in the wrist. Blue Men are more like Japanese taiko drummers, "straight wrists, strong and powerful, which tends to move you," Roberts notes.

The Blue Men have not yet seen how long one can go: "We’re still on the front end of that," Roberts says. "We have guys in their 40s, but they’re in phenomenal shape."

On the other end, the troupe likes to promote from within as well. A current zither player, Las Vegan Andrew Gomez, grew up as a Blue Man fanboy. He and brother Robert built their own PVC instruments to put on Blue Man shows at home, and sometimes went to the Luxor to greet the actors post-show in the lobby even when they didn’t have a ticket.

Robert is now a "front of house" employee, picking up paper after the show as Andrew did before he joined the band.

Is Las Vegas on its way to a homegrown Blue Man? They may have to wait for Roberts to go somewhere else, and he isn’t planning on that anytime soon.

"It’s like a kid who grew up watching Jordan and then gets to play for the Bulls," he says.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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