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Into the Wild Blue

For Russell Rinker, performing with wild, wacky Blue Man Group is serious fun


by: COURTESY OF BLUE MAN GROUP - The three humanoids of Blue Man Group like to create all kinds of noise with drums as part of their popular show, which plays Keller Auditorium, March 7 to 9.Behind the blue facepaint, skull cap, nondescript clothing, sealed lips and inexplicable movement is a real person acting as one of the egoless humanoids with the vastly popular Blue Man Group.

Russell Rinker likes the feeling. Nobody knows who he is.

“It’s kind of a superhero identity,” he says.

Yet, he dislikes the feeling. Nobody knows who he is.

“Actors want to be known as themselves and get work as themselves,” he says. “It’s tough to be in the anonymous character business.”

The 37-year-old Rinker, a Shakespearean actor, opera singer and classically trained pianist who grew up in rural Virginia, has performed with Blue Man Group for about 10 years, both in its residence home of Las Vegas and throughout the world on tour. He left the troupe two years ago to pursue other endeavors, but the fun of “BMG” drew him back last year, and Rinker signed up again for the 2013-14 tour, which stops in Portland, March 7 through 9 at Keller Auditorium.

One has to attend a Blue Man Group performance to get the gist of it.

Rinker still finds joy in watching confused audience members wondering what the blue guys are doing amid the thumping experimental music and special effects and flashing lights, darting in and out of the crowd, nonverbally communicating with each other from across the room, bringing people up on stage and using toilet paper and other props.

“It’s a great place to work, in that you see people being struck by this childlike wonder and awe and not knowing what to think — and laughing, being excited and getting up and dancing,” he says. “It’s a great gig in that you can always draw from the audience.”

It’s physical storytelling at its best, with the humanoids allowing the audience members to write their own story through their actions. The Blue Man sees things differently than humans, and it’s up to humans to figure out the story.

“Without words, you really learn how much you can communicate,” Rinker says.

Russell RinkerThere are several actors playing humanoids in Blue Man Group shows. Four travel on the current tour that will stop in Portland, including Rinker, with three taking the stage.

They act as a whole, Rinker says, or “three as one.”

“We don’t do anything without the other two,” he adds “The real theme of the show is connection, and we are connecting and acknowledging that we’ve come to this place of these human creatures to connect and share.

“This is a really great show to see, one of our best. It has a lot of classic Blue Man pieces and new material. The way you have the big flashy lights and special effects, it gives it a big epic feel, but with nice theatrical and intimate moments.”

Rinker says playing the Blue Man roles has always been challenging, and it’s one of the favorite things he has done in his career.

Things stay fresh, he says.

by: COURTESY OF BLUE MAN GROUP - Humanoids roll out their toilet paper and do other things, leaving audience members not knowing what to think, Russell Rinker says.“You get paid to make people laugh, make music and pound on drums,” he says. “It’s a dream job. You always want to keep your bag of tricks full as a performer. I have a pretty wide range of interest.

“I would just like to be in a situation where I can do this and that, rather than the same thing all the time. The Blue Man Group allows that. You have free time, and you don’t need a day job to support a theater job. ... It is a dream job in a lot of ways, but I would like to try to move on, having done it so long,” Rinker says. “It’ll probably always be there. I’ll never say, ‘This’ll be my last Blue Man show.’ I quit in 2007, and then I’ve done several hundred shows since then. I would like to always be able to do it, but there may be a point where I explore other things. It’s a great show. It’s so rewarding. You’re not just entertaining people, which serves its purpose, but it’s got a deeper goal of getting them to connect, inspire, be creative and think outside normal perspective.”


Kinda Blue

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 7, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 9

Where: Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay St.

Cost: Tickets start at $35; available at www.broadwayacrossamerica.com or by calling 503-241-1802