Over 527 shows last year, the Blue Man Group went through roughly 18,500 marshmallows, 2,100 Twinkies, 2,000 pounds of Cap’n Crunch cereal, 26,300 pounds of Jell-O, 500 bars of Toblerone, and 67,300 bunches of bananas.
Goodness no, the trio of bald, big-eyed performers didn’t eat all that. But if you’ve seen the show, now in its 20th year of residence at the Briar Street Theatre, you know these foods are as crucial to the frenetic performance as drums and paint.
The edible props, only a fraction of which are ingested, make for some of the show’s most entertaining bits, but they’re more than mere sight gags, says Tom Galassi, a Blue Man since 1997.
“The Twinkie or ‘Feast’ scene, the Cap’n Crunch, they all have a much deeper meaning,” says Galassi, who helps train new cast members and develop content for the show in addition to performing.
Here’s a look at the logistical challenges and philosophical significance of each food.
It’s one of the show's most memorable scenes: a Blue Man tosses marshmallows—between 30 and 35 per show—across the stage and into the elastic maw of his fellow Man, who triumphantly extracts the squishy mass from his mouth in one piece.
“We take it as a serious thing, a commentary on consumption and information overload,” says Galassi. “Like, how much can you take? How can you take this thing that might not be healthy for you, and can you make something beautiful with it?”
It’s one of the trickier moves all performers must master during training.
“It's kind of dangerous, actually … You do choke sometimes. Or the eyes will start to water,” concedes Galassi. “We’d throw and catch and train on how to make this work four hours a day, five days a week.”
Galassi says when he was still a relatively green Blue Man, people at parties would throw food at him to see if he’d catch it. That got old, fast. Understandably, he no longer eats marshmallows or any of the other food props outside of work. “Marshmallows are totally ruined for me at this point,” he says.
Standing in front of giant, glowing “GiPad” screens, the performers munch on handfuls of cereal. A crunchy rhythm emerges, and speakers amplify it to a foot-stomping, seat-shaking level.
Here again, art trumps junk and excess. “It’s a sugar cereal that’s sharp and doesn’t really have any nutritional value. It’s marketed on the sound it makes when you eat it, which is interesting,” says Galassi. “So Blue Man uses this to make a beautiful sound. It’s getting you to understand that even with things that might be harmful, you can keep your human spirit intact.”
They’re fake-munching, by the way. “We try not to [swallow]. We chew and it sort of falls out,” he says.
With the audience primed, the troupe wanders into the aisles for the first—and not the last—time. One lucky person is about to toss pieces of white chocolate Toblerone into a performer's mouth.
“It’s a way for us to communicate and really connect to the audience, because they’ve just seen this thing happen with the marshmallows,” says Galassi.
Improvisation is key. In Galassi’s experience, most people have poor aim. “But we can make anything work. If all three are bad throws, we’ll get more Toblerone and let ‘em try it again. Or maybe I’ll pick it up off the floor and then signal to the person, OK, I’m going to throw it to you now, which is even crazier. They love that. There’s always a way for us to heighten it and make it into a celebration,” he says.
Twinkies (and bananas)
Another audience participation moment, another roll of the dice. ”We’ve had people run out of the theater, just get up and literally run out of the theater,” says Galassi. “I was reading recently that that’s the No. 1 fear people have, being in the spotlight in front of other people.”
But if you’re a ham, you’re in for a treat. The Blue Men escort you to a table onstage, to eat Twinkies with them and bond. “It’s very personal to eat with someone. There’s an intimacy to it,” Galassi says.
It’s all very sweet until—spoiler alert!—banana mush spews forth from built-in chest holes. “Waste, that’s what this is about,” says Galassi. “How we consume and then throw away, and how we keep doing that.”
Happily, as the show’s most used and least obvious food prop, the bananas don’t go to waste offstage. The nonprofit Resource Center picks up about 150 pounds a week of the fruit for composting. It also takes the theater’s recyclable goods, according to the center’s founder Ken Dunn. (The Blue Man Group is working on a video about its banana usage. Even the banana stickers have a role in an ever-growing mural on the wall of the theater’s laundry room, started years ago by a crew member. )
Dunn hasn’t seen the show and doesn’t know the banana backstory. “All I know is, that whole crew is very interested in being as environmentally conscious as possible,” he says.
The final participatory scene is the Blue Man equivalent of a magician sawing his assistant in half. A volunteer from the audience is outfitted, doused in paint, and swung against a canvas backstage. A camera broadcasts the purported action to the crowd.
Then, out comes a 50-pound red Jell-O mold. The Blue Men, fascinated by all things wobbly, paw and dig at it until, voila, the volunteer emerges headfirst, happy to be in on the joke.
“And I have no idea what that means other than it looks cool,” says Galassi.