Consider this blog one entry from a short series of lookbacks at the semester. Excuse me while I grow a bit melancholic. I’m at the end of my first semester of my senior year at Oberlin, which also marks the near beginning of my last semester at Oberlin. Instead of looking to the future I’d rather take this in-between period of winter break to look back at the absurdity, silliness and general beauty of the last semester. What better way to gain a sense of Oberlin though a short blog than through a few memories.
One of the greater moments of the semester occurred on the stage of the Sco. The Sco is a small event space open to and run by students. It’s located in Wilder at the center of campus and is a general space for dancing, playing pool, dressing up in really inspired outfits and requesting songs at the DJ booth in the corner. This year, the Cover Band Showcase was hosted at the Sco. Cover Band is taken (almost surprisingly) seriously at Oberlin. An application process is required, a board admits a selection of bands and the groups practice for a few weeks before the big performance. It is hosted once each semester and usually packed with people, but this was my first time as a performer instead of an audience member. Now, with a little context offered let me set the scene:
The lights are bright and the stage is small. Wires snake across the stage attached to microphones and massive speakers. I’m covered in blue face paint and a bald cap is stretching the skin of my face tightly. Trying hard to keep a straight face, I widen my eyes, just as the blue men in the Blue Man Group would, and take to the stage. The crowd is chanting "Blue Men," and our instrument, made from PVC pipe and glue, is lying across the stage, ready to be played. This moment is entirely surreal and I can’t look into the eyes of anyone else painted blue on stage because I’m sure that if I do I’ll break down in laughter. I wait for the music to begin, and as our projected compilation of people headbanging to the music launches, so do our first and last ten minutes as the Blue Man Group in our cover band performance.
The Blue Man Group cover band was never my dream to begin with. I was fortunately swept up in the idea that finally became a reality, but the cover band performance had really been years in the making. To begin, someone I never knew who graduated had come up with the idea on a whim. Apparently, the idea was passed down to Cy, who knew Lucy, who were both adamant to bring the idea of Blue Man Group Cover Band to life. Lucy’s mom used to date one of the actual blue men of Blue Man Group and a really gorgeous picture of Lucy’s mom and a man in blue kissing was already circulating when we received the email saying we were granted permission to be in Cover Band Showcase and we would be performing last, as a sort of grand finale to the event.
So began the process of becoming blue by wrangling a group together. The criteria included a group of people devoted enough to Cover Band to actually come to practices for Blue Man Group, innovative enough to hit a PVC pipe with a flip flop and agree it is music, and liberated enough to be blue in front of the Oberlin student body. Everyone in Cy’s house was already involved, as were Greer and I. Lucy, of course, was spearheading the Blue Man Group primary source research by calling her mom to ask about performance tips. Finally, we got Hannah on board and it was time to begin putting together a 10-minute performance. All we had at this point in the process was a Cover Band Name: Blue is the Manliest Color. With that we began the long and arduous but truly enlightening process of becoming blue.
A trip to the PVC pipe section of Costco to scope out materials, an online purchase of blue skin-safe liquid latex and a group call to Lucy’s mom (former band associate) for recommendations led us all back to the living room, where an intensive cover band practice was about to begin. As we pieced together what we could do beyond slapping a PVC pipe with two wooden spoons and a flip flop, a dance number, drum solos and group choreography began to fall into place. As a group we listened to more ambient sound compilations than we’d like to admit but finally agreed on one that would act as the perfect backdrop for our video component. With each additional idea pitched by a group member, the performance grew more and more elaborate. Finally, after scouring the internet for a Blue Man Group song that would enliven any Sco audience member at 1am, the first half of our 10-minute set was ready. Everyone knew their places and their cues, the PCV instrument was assembled and the makeshift drumsticks were assigned to each blue man.
If you (like everyone else we spoke to on campus) also went to see the Blue Man Group live in concert during the best eighth-grade field trip of your life, you will know that a crucial element of the set is missing: the skit. Amongst the rhythmic drum beats and general blueness of the Blue Man Group there are always skits in each performance. For instance, sometimes one member of the Blue Man Group throws pellets of cream cheese into the mouth of another blue man standing far away. As his mouth becomes a disgusting glob of wet cream cheese, a third blue man carries a pedestal to the front of the stage, where the cream cheese is deposited from mouth to pedestal in a disgusting but fascinating manner. Finally, a fourth blue man marks the conglomerate cream cheese with a sign that reads “5,000” to signify that the sticky-looking mess atop the pedestal is in fact a piece of artwork. As a group hoping to represent the Blue Man Group in all their glory, we knew we had to do something equally absurd but within the parameters of the Sco rules and sound equipment. After much deliberation, we unanimously decided a magic trick involving jello would be the piece de resistance our cover band needed. The skit begins with a silent surveillance of the crowd with the backdrop of ambient noise. Then, a blue man steps forward to select an audience volunteer. The volunteer removes one of their shoes and it is taken to the back of the stage. At the same moment, a large batch of jello containing the same shoe is carried out. The spectacular nature of the act then shocks and amazes the audience before our audience volunteer falls into a choreographed dance sequence with the rest of the Blue Man Group.
With our plan drawn out each member of the group took on responsibilities. A sound check was scheduled, the jello was made, bald caps were ordered and the background video and music was carefully edited to align with our performance plans. When Cy and Sophie set out to buy PVC pipe they encountered a man at the hardware store who was an avid Blue Man Group fan. He recommended specific pipes and connecting pieces as well as alternative drumsticks that would make the most noise. We took his advice and considered him an omnipotent sign of our future success as Blue Men during the Cover Band Showcase. After nightly practices and an entire Saturday devoted to compiling the music, props, drum skills and choreography into one full performance, we knew we were ready.
Finally, the night of the Cover Band Showcase arrived. The air was charged with excitement as we struggled to pin up our hair and pull bald caps over our heads. After 15 minutes of debating if the bald caps were for children or specifically made for adults with small heads we realized we had put on the caps before eating dinner. We all donned sweatshirts with sizable hoods to ensure that our identities as blue men would not be preemptively revealed, and snuck away to Tank. At the co-op, we swooped into dinner late through the back door, stacked pizza slices onto pieces of aluminum foil and folded up the packages of dinner to go. The following hours became an array of loose pizza on the table, eyelash glue re-application at the line where the bald cap meets the forehead, experimentation with paint and facepaint of various blue hues and the echoing fear that we could run out of paint at a point when we were all not blue enough. At half past midnight, we grouped into the back of the Sco, shrouded in the darkness of the far back corner. We hoped no one would see us too clearly before we made it to the stage. As the jello was set in place and the PVC instrument was laid across the stage before our performance, the adrenaline field nervousness began to set in. Right before getting on stage, we gave each other one last blue nod and clambered up the steps to get into position. The music fell over the room, the drumsticks hovered over the PVC pipe, and with that our Cover Band Showcase began. The ten minutes felt both infinitely long and devastatingly short and the entire time on stage was a blur of yelling, music, and trying desperately to keep a straight face. Until then, we had only gotten through about two full run-throughs without breaking down in laughter at the absurdity of our costumes, the background video, or the instrument breaking apart in our hands during rehearsal. We were stoic in our effort to pay homage to the Blue Man Group.
The experience of performing as the Blue Man Group was almost as unforgettable as the relief of taking off a bald cap after seven hours. The short drive back home was one filled with giddy exhaustion after a long day. I wondered then if I would ever be in a space like Oberlin again, where a plan like Blue Man Group Cover Band can come to fruition and be not only an absurd hilarious experience for the people involved in the performance, but also so well received by an audience of students. I was sure there was no better place to be blue.
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