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Ian Thal

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Blogs by Ian Thal

Bill and Ian See Blue Man Group
4/17/2006 2:43:57 PM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

April 5, 2006:
After several years and hundreds of walks through Botticcelli’s labyrinth painted in navy blue on the hardwood floor in the basement of Saint Paul's Cathedral Church, James suggest we walk it as if we had never encountered a labyrinth before, as if we did not know what it was. So I enter as if thrown through the entrance, landing on my haunches. As I slowly pull myself forward through the passage, Raffi asks, "was it you or Marty who attended clown college?" I examine the lines I crawl between, twisting my body about the hairpin turns, and slowly pulling myself back to my feet.
Exploring the labyrinth for an imaginary first time, I find myself attracted to the corners, often sticking my index finger or big toe into the corner and rotating my limbs at the hip or shoulder joints, sometimes finding my digits stuck, requiring me to mime a full use of force to release myself-- thus flinging myself deeper into the labyrinth. I briefly encounter Bill in the fourth quadrant and treat as a nemesis. He responds with amusement.
On the return trip, I act as if the gravity around the labyrinth is shifting and find myself gripping the lines on the floor for dear life, oft losing my grasp and tumbling down the ever curving passages until I hit against another wall or grab hold of another line of navy blue paint.
Afterwards, Bill and I leave Labyrinth early to see Blue Man Group. Bill Barnum, for those of you who are new either to my blogging or to my live performances, is the soon-to-be eighty-one-year-old actor-poet-mime and an original member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater when we first started performing together under that name in the spring of 2002. He quit a little more than a year later when both he and I both broke bones within weeks of one another, but James, Bill and I have maintained our friendship.
As Bill and I walked down Boylston Street towards the theatre district, Bill asked, “Say Ian, at what theatre are they playing?”
“The Charles Playhouse,” I reply.
“Oh that’s on Warrenton Street.”

“Did you ever perform there, Bill?”
“Oh yes, I performed in Henry IV but not Shakespeare’s Henry IV -- Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV! It was sometime back in the 1980s, and I got very good reviews-- better than the fellow who played Henry!”
“Whom did you play?”
“Some supporting role, I had to announce things-- I forget the name of the character. It’s a good play, but I don’t think I ever read the whole thing.”
“You mean, you only read your parts?”
“Bill turns to me and grins an impish grin, nodding, “Yes.”

Bill and I continue on our way. Briefly stopping so he can show me his trick of balancing the sky on the tip of his nose. I decide that it would be more impressive if he could hold the heavens up for more than a few seconds, but still the antics of this octogenarian Atlas are impressive. By the time we arrive in the Theatre District, we’re both needing a snack and so we get some cheap vegetable fried rice at a nearby food court minutes before closing time.
We show up at the Charles Playhouse, pick up our tickets and after minutes in the lounge, head up to our balcony seats. I had seen the show once nearly a decade before from a seat on the auditorium floor. The basic premise is the same as are the vast majority of the gags, but a few segments have been added or updated to reflect changes in the media culture, with greater emphasis on the ubiquity of the internet, a new section skit on the commodification of iconic rock stars and their commodified relationship with their audience and even a history of animation that includes its pre-history in cave paintings and shadow puppetry. All the gags with food, paint, and the slapstick are still present, but the greater presence of MacLuhanian themes make it a more cohesive theatre piece than the one I recall from the 1990s.
Bill likes all the gags with food, although, having been a vegetarian since the 1960s, he is unfamiliar with twinkies. He’s also impressed with the Blue Men’s height: “They’re so tall! I think James can be a Blue Man!”
At the end of the show, we get down to the lobby where Bill ends up having an improvisation with one of the Blue Men. I get an “autograph” as the same Blue Man stamps my ticket stub with the paint on his forehead, and we retire back to the lounge where there is a small catered affair to which we’ve been invited. After eating our fill, and listening to the musical entertainment’s full set, I walk Bill back to his home on Beacon Hill.
Being mimes, we can’t help but analyze the Blue Men’s performance style. Neither of us have a problem seeing the Blue Men as mimes but it’s a very different sort of mime theatre than the one we practice. Theirs being one that is primarily of the head and arms, while the “classical mime” that Bill, James, and I inherited with Etienne Decroux is one that integrates the full body.
April 12, 2006:
Bill calls me up on the phone and we get talking, Labyrinth has been canceled so I am at home cooking dinner and not in the bowels of Saint Paul’s with him and James. After commenting on the precision involved with Blue Man Group, he explains how he always did his best work in the theatre with directors who let him do whatever he wanted to do, which leads to the reasons he largely dropped out of the “legitimate” theatre world in Boston to become one of the earliest “performance artists” creating his own material from his poetry and his vast repertoire of acting and mime technique.
After a meandering conversation in which Bill references obscure English poets like James Thomson (1700-1748), local theatre directors like Tom Wheeler (in whose Marat/Sade Bill appeared as an inmate) and Dustin Hoffman (whom Bill always refers to as “Dusty”) and Paul Benedict with whom he performed in a production of Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow, Bill finally leads to his own reasons why he quit Cosmic Spelunker Theater:
“I wanted us to create whole pieces together, not take a theme and collect small pieces from each of us and make a show out of that, one piece following another. James is very good at picking a theme and putting all those pieces together but I had been performing my solo pieces the way I have for years, and I didn’t want to change the way I performed them.”
On that charge, I plead guilty, "James and I didnt have the same theater experience that you had at the beginning, and so our performance experience was largely based on performing solo pieces that were written separately and at the time it was a good way of creating new shows in a very short time. But things have changed since then, we write a lot more for the shows that James and I create.”
Bill then switches to wondering if Judith Molina of the Living Theater would like to perform with him, “Some people have said that she and I move our hands in similar way.”
“I told you that.”
“Yes, but so did other people. I don’t think she’s much younger than I am...”
“She writes poetry too.”
“She does?”


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More Blogs by Ian Thal
• September 2007 Blog - Saturday, October 06, 2007
• August 2007 Blog Index - Sunday, September 02, 2007
• July 2007 Blog Index: - Wednesday, August 01, 2007
• June 2007 Blog Index - Monday, July 02, 2007
• May 2007 Blog Index - Wednesday, May 30, 2007
• The Adventures of CMYK - Tuesday, May 01, 2007
• April Madness - Tuesday, May 01, 2007
• Walt Whitman and I - Friday, April 20, 2007
• Breaking with Bread and Puppet - Thursday, April 12, 2007
• American Dissident Outs Stalinist Clown! - Saturday, February 24, 2007
• The Last Days of Judas Iscariot - Wednesday, January 03, 2007
• My First Feature Film Shoot - Monday, September 04, 2006
• Into the Station” at Boston City Hall - Saturday, July 08, 2006
• Becoming Fire - Friday, June 09, 2006
•  Bill and Ian See Blue Man Group - Monday, April 17, 2006  
• An Open Letter to Stephen Schwartz - Monday, April 03, 2006
• My Quarrel with The Weekly Standard's Stephen Schwartz - Saturday, March 04, 2006
• Bread & Puppet Journal, 2005 - Thursday, December 29, 2005
• Teaching mime with Open Air Circus - Friday, August 05, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VIII - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VII - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VI - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part V - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part IV - Monday, January 03, 2005
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part III - Friday, December 24, 2004
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part II - Friday, December 24, 2004
• Another Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part I - Friday, December 24, 2004
• The Dresden Dolls show - Tuesday, November 09, 2004
• Waltzing to War @ Out of the Blue - Tuesday, November 09, 2004
• Word Play on SCAT - Tuesday, November 09, 2004
• Autographs & Interviews - Tuesday, November 09, 2004
• Beacon Hill Panorama @ All Asia Café - Monday, October 04, 2004
• Trip to Providence - Monday, October 04, 2004
• Interview in Providence Phoenix - Thursday, September 02, 2004
• Activists Vs. Artists - Friday, July 30, 2004
• James Van Looy Interview - Thursday, May 20, 2004
• The Perils of a Political Humorist - Wednesday, May 05, 2004
• On Display - Wednesday, May 05, 2004
• Whimsy: 4/29/2004 - Wednesday, May 05, 2004
• Self Criticism - Wednesday, May 05, 2004
• From The Archives: A Misreading - Tuesday, March 09, 2004
• Our National Anthem/Back in the USA - Friday, January 30, 2004
• Notes on the Confederacy/Back in the USA - Friday, January 30, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Epilogue - Friday, January 23, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part XVII - Friday, January 23, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part XVI - Friday, January 23, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part XV - Friday, January 23, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater, Part XIV - Tuesday, January 20, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater, Part XIII - Monday, January 12, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater, Part XII - Monday, January 12, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part XI - Monday, January 12, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part X - Friday, January 02, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part IX - Friday, January 02, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VIII - Friday, January 02, 2004
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VII - Saturday, December 20, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part VI - Tuesday, December 16, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part V - Tuesday, December 16, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part IV - Monday, December 15, 2003
• Two Weeks With Bread & Puppet Theater: Part III - Sunday, December 14, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part II - Friday, December 12, 2003
• Two Weeks with Bread & Puppet Theater: Part I - Friday, December 12, 2003
• Flux Concert & Lunar Eclipse - Friday, November 28, 2003
• Squawkings, Hexings and Sonny Holiday - Sunday, November 02, 2003
• On Groupies and Bloggers: Part II: The Blogger - Monday, October 27, 2003
• On Groupies and Bloggers: Part I: The Groupie - Monday, October 27, 2003
• First Ballet Lesson - Sunday, October 26, 2003
• Economics of Art - Wednesday, August 13, 2003
• An artist at work - Tuesday, August 05, 2003
• Performance @ Large - Tuesday, August 05, 2003
• Friday, July 18th, 2003: - Sunday, July 27, 2003
• Trip to NYC, part II - Sunday, July 20, 2003
• Trip to NYC, part I - Sunday, July 20, 2003


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