BARRE — Christopher Bowen has always had a flair for the theatrical.
When he was a kid, living on Palmisano Drive with his two brothers and sister, he was known to produce, emcee and perform a magic show for neighborhood families, raising money for muscular dystrophy research. His mother dubbed him the “Illustrious Chris.” Later, when he attended Spaulding High School, in the 1980s Bowen was regularly doing theater or playing in some band.
So it should come as no surprise to Central Vermonters who know Bowen that his trajectory took him all the way to New York City and into the heart of one of the most famous modern-day productions of all time, “Blue Man Group.”
In his 28 years working in the Blue Man Group community, he has been one of the Blue Men as a performer, a director/performer for Blue Men trainees, a creative director for the show, writer and developer for new material and tours. While he lives in New York City, the opportunity has taken him (and the Blue Men) all over the globe.
When Blue Man Group was still gaining in popularity, Bowen came along filling in as an understudy — something the group had not really enjoyed up to that point.
Bowen had made the Blue Man connection through a friend that he knew from Bennington College, where he had studied visual arts, theater and music. His friend’s brother worked on the show, which spent its early days in small theaters around New York.
That understudy role not only gave each of the Blue Man performers a chance to see the show from the outside, it spurred along a creative process that would soon launch Blue Man Group into the stratosphere.
“It gave them a chance to really look at the show,” the 52-year-old said this week.
It has never come down.
Founded in 1987, and playing small theaters in its earliest days, the avant-garde show appears in cities around the globe. It is constantly developing new themes and shows, and is always recruiting new Blue Men.
“It’s like a community,” Bowen said. “A big Blue Man community.”
Don’t know what “Blue Man Group” is? Well, it’s hard to put into words, and even Bowen agrees it’s a struggle to describe.
In trying to explain it, he said, it’s almost just as easy to explain what it isn’t. First, there’s no dialogue. The props in the show are simple: PVC pipe, tubes, sticks, among many others. The show centers on three men — each dressed identically in black clothes; their hands and faces covered in bright blue paint. (Their heads appear shaved.) At the start of the show, it is impossible to distinguish them.
“It’s almost as if they emerged from paint somehow,” Bowen explains. “Like they are just a color.”
The show is a journey, where through humor and trial and error, the characters as a group discover individuality; they do so with interactions with everyday objects and, eventually, they come to interact with the audience. The show uses percussive patterns (beats, mostly) to set mood and tone, and to indicate shifts in mood and personal awakenings. There are various colors and lights used throughout the show to complement and offer emphasis.
“It’s really about outsiders,” Bowen said. “About fitting in. Or not fitting in.”
And through themes of inclusivity and tolerance (among many others), each Blue Man finds his place in the group. For the audience, the experience is personal and relatable at different levels.
Bowen acknowledges the show is physically and emotionally demanding. It requires extensive training.
“It requires months of training to learn the character and get to the level of precision required to perform in this show where every single second counts,” he said.
Millions have taken the Blue Man journey over the decades. (Bowen even admits that, now in his 50s, he is working with third-generation Blue Men.) The show is one of the most popular ever produced, and its popularity shows no signs of fading.
In fact, Bowen has been working for months now with a new director in writing and developing another Blue Man Group tour, called “Speechless.” It is in the final stages of completion. It opens this September.
Bowen is also a composer, and has worked on several projects. He has written musical scores for films and features including “Jellyfish,” which was the winner of the 2007 Cannes Camera d’Or, and the stop-action animated “$9.99,” which came out in 2009.
While Blue Man has become iconic over the years, Bowen almost seems humbled still by the show’s message.
“It’s about finding your place,” he said. “I think everybody can relate to that.”