In the Pipeline: Feeling blue but happy

When Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton first applied the blue greasepaint in the late 1980s in New York City, it's hard to imagine that phenomenon that would become Blue Man Group.

Today, millions of fans around the world have become mesmerized by the show featuring three quizzical, curious, provocative blue characters who challenge social norms and make broad, bold (and often humorous) statements about this crazy world we share.

The troupe has grown to include many members today, and the show recently landed at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa for a run that continues through Nov. 20. I had the pleasure of seeing the show, a vividly entertaining spectacle that's as smart as it is funny.

If you're not familiar with the show, it's a loosely themed collection of scenarios featuring the Blue Men, who communicate not through words but through silent, visual acting and lots of tribal drumming. Their "sketches" make many comments about modern technology and its numbing effect on society, and the trio has fun piercing the bubbles of societal norms through a dizzying array of special effects, sleight of hand, a little magic and plenty of ingenious pantomime.

Not contained to the stage, they roam the crowd as well, interacting with the audience while also looking for some willing volunteers to join them in the act. It is a thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking show, and as one of the Blue Man Bhurin Sead told me the next day, it's perfect for all ages.

"One of the best things for me about the show is how, whether you're 5, 15, 25, 50 or 80, the show is very appealing," he said. "Primarily, I think because we encourage the audience to let go and allow themselves to simply have a good time in the moment. Who doesn't want to do that?

"There's a childlike innocence to the characters based on letting one find joy in taking risks. That's a very universal thing, I think."

Sead also described what it's first like when you become a member of the show. First, you are trained as an actor in one of the three roles. Over the course of time, you are taught the other two roles so that parts can be traded each night, which keeps everything fresh.

As for the (thick) makeup, Sead told me the first time he put on the latex ball cap and blue greasepaint up to the eye line, it was somewhat uncomfortable — but now it seems completely normal. In fact, he likes the feeling it gives him.

"The mask allows us to take away all the other social masks we put on as people, stripping away all sense of ego," he said. "That's a key to the characters, that we essentially have no ego."

He also explained that no two shows are the same. Every night is a work in progress whereby the Blue Men are trying to figure the audience out and vice versa.

If you go (and I highly recommend the show), make sure you hang out in the lobby afterward when the group appears to meet the public, take photos and interact some more.

Blue Man Group runs at Segerstrom Center for the Arts until Nov. 20, and tickets start at just $20. For ticket information, call (714) 556-2787.

Also on the subject of theater in Orange County, the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA), a nationally recognized arts school in Santa Ana, recently presented its 25th Anniversary Season Premiere at the school's beautiful new Margaret A. Webb Theatre.

As I've been learning (our daughter is a freshman at the school), for any local student interested in pursuing a career in the arts, this is a very special place. The night of the show, I spoke with school founder Ralph Opacic and his wife, Sherry.

Ralph explained how he arrived here from Virginia at age 17 to be "the next Billy Joel, but I did not know how to pursue a career in the arts." So in 1988, he founded the school (in a series of trailers) at Los Alamitos High School. It was reorganized as a public charter school in 2000 and then relocated to Santa Ana.

Opacic told me jokingly that his "own dismal failure provided the catalyst for the school," and that he wanted to create a place where "students looking for an alternative to the traditional could be in a place that cultivates their talents — a unique, positive, nurturing environment for kids that think differently."

But he also stresses that academics never take a back seat to the performance arts. As a parent of a student, I can vouch for the fact that the school takes academics seriously with a rigorous, college preparatory environment.

And naturally, many students go on to become well-known singers, dancers, casting directors and producers — potential employers for OCHSA students in the near future. As parents, what my wife and I liked about the school was how it teaches kids to become prepared for what to deal with in the "real" entertainment world.

"We help students build pathways and bridges to careers," Opacic noted.

Former student Nina Herzog, a talented singer now at UCLA, was on hand to perform the night I attended the show. She told me that "OCHSA is the perfect haven for kids that love to perform and may sometimes have a hard time fitting in, given their passion for the arts."

Judging from her evening performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Misérables," the school certainly prepared her to deliver the goods. In fact, the entire production that evening was stunning in its professional detail. The singing, dancing, orchestral performances — they all were delivered with exceptional professionalism and the production itself, technically, was also very impressive.

The Opacics have worked hard to create an environment where creative, talented students can begin to understand that there is in fact a place for them in the world — and they're taught how to find that place, as well.

I can tell you firsthand as a parent, this really is an amazing school environment, and for all of you with children holding that special passion for the arts, it might well be worth a visit.

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CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at

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