Dads by Day, Blue by Night

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine
By Melissa Shaw

It’s hard to find fathers more colorful than Jason McLin and Adam Erdossy.

Members of Blue Man Group, they have a cool Boston office, the 180-year-old Charles Playhouse — the Theatre District’s oldest — and whenever their children (two girls for McLin and a son for Erdossy) come to hang out at sound check or catch a show, all three are popular additions.

“They really love it,” McLin says of his daughters, Olive and Poppy. “They have a great time and they want to come more often. It is funny when they are here. Some of the Blue Men who are still here when I got here [2011] know them so well that they get a lot of attention and such that you’ll see people around them wonder, ‘Why are they getting this attention? Who are these kids?’” He stops and chuckles: “It’s very different from how I grew up.”

It’s a non-traditional job for your typical dad and a unique show in the world of theatre, and Blue Man Group’s long Boston run, nearly 22 years and counting, is delivering surprising benefits for Erdossy and McLin, personally and professionally.

[caption id="attachment_8090" align="aligncenter" width="780"]

Both men studied theatre, McLin at DePaul University in Chicago and Erdossy at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. While they hadn’t met yet, their paths were similar. Both headed to New York to audition for work and realized the business of show business — endless auditions and hustling for paying gigs — wasn’t for them.

“You’re a self-promoter, you’re on the grind of auditioning. I’m ill suited to that work,” McLin admits.

“I quickly realized I didn’t really have a huge drive to be famous or make a name for myself or be in a huge Broadway show for the sake of being in a huge Broadway show,” Erdossy added.

Also: Blue Man Group: A Family-Friendly Favorite

Enter Blue Man Group. Based in New York, the show is the creation of three friends fresh out of college. The trio developed a non-speaking bald and blue character they called Blue Man (think “human”), and in 1991 began melding music, comedy, props, and rock into an entirely new theatrical experience that has since expanded around the world and been enjoyed by 35 million people. Blue Man Group regularly auditions prospective cast members (actors, musicians, street performers, and others) at its New York headquarters/training center, which is where both men found themselves after suggestions from friends.

The audition is unique in that there is not just one role up for grabs: “It’s not Hamlet, so we’re not all trying to play Hamlet,” McLin says. “The nice thing about that is you sort of get this instant community vibe in the room, more so than you do when you’re seeing all the people in the room just like you vying for the same role.”

Prospective Blue Men who pass the initial audition are welcomed into what is basically an extended tryout. There’s a multi-week program in which they learn parts of the show at the training center, and those who excel continue honing the role, and perform in the New York production at the Astor Place Theatre as part of their training. Those accepted into the company are assigned a show in one of Blue Man’s permanent productions around the U.S.: Boston, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas, or Orlando.

[caption id="attachment_8095" align="alignleft" width="1008"]

Since turning blue in 2002, McLin, a native of Indiana, has performed in several cities, including Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, and Toronto, and was part of the first Blue Man Group cruise to the Caribbean with Norwegian Cruise Line in 2009. He returned to Boston in 2011, settling with his family outside of the city.

While McLin’s Blue Man journey has taken him around the country, Erdossy’s has extended around the world. After completing training and joining the company in 2006, the Vermont native was assigned to the Boston production, then was offered the chance to open the show in Tokyo. He stayed for its entire four-and-a-half-year run, during which he met and married wife Seiko, a professional dancer and kimono model, and they welcomed son Leo, now 4. The family returned to Massachusetts a few years ago, but will soon be grabbing their passports and leaving for at least nine months, as they all join the second leg of the Blue Man Group World Tour, which kicks off next month in Tel Aviv.

“We’ll be on tour together, that was the only way I would have accepted that position because we spent enough time apart on that national tour,” notes Erdossy, who performed with the national tour solo for four months last year while his wife and son lived in Japan with family. “I didn’t really want to do that again.”

The Erdossys love to travel, but their desire to return to Japan at least once a year to visit family makes any other excursions difficult: “Our travel budget usually gets eaten up now that we have to buy three tickets to Japan. We haven’t had too many chances to travel outside of that trip, so this was a great opportunity to actually get to travel all over Europe, which neither of us have travelled in very much before.”

In addition to the ability to travel and explore Europe with his family, Erdossy also views the upcoming tour as an important means of inspiring some international goodwill.

[caption id="attachment_8091" align="alignleft" width="780"]

“[Blue Man] is essential to do right now because it’s core human experience that connects people and doesn’t separate people,” he says. “It takes us down to the basics and gets us all to explore the more universal elements that connect us all, which is very much what we need right now. I look at it as a privilege and wonderful opportunity to take some of the good elements we have created in American culture and hopefully spread it around as much as possible.”

Yet that mission, while exciting, will be a change for the family.

“Every time we wake up in the morning at our house, birds are chirping, we look outside and we make our coffee, it’s like we’re going to be in a hotel in some random place in Europe for a year,” Erdossy chuckles. “It’s going to be quite a shift. But it’s too good of an opportunity to pass up, especially at [Leo’s] age.”

Wife Seiko, who runs a kimono dressing, rental, and instruction company, will put her business on hold.

“For the tour I have to stop my business, which is a little sad,” she admits. “But this is a good opportunity, and this will be good education for [Leo] so we can show him lots of countries, lots of languages, and culture.”

Two unique roles

Blue Man Group is a theatrical anomaly in more ways than one. In a business where successful shows run for just a few years (and flops as little as weeks or months), Blue Man is a cultural mainstay, now 26 years in New York, 21 in Boston, and 20 in Chicago. Many of the cast and crew in the productions throughout the country have long tenures with the company, allowing fathers, like McLin and Erdossy, the relative luxury of being performers at night and dads during the day.

[caption id="attachment_8092" align="alignleft" width="347"]

“When my first daughter was born, my partner was in grad school, so she would be in class during the day and I would be at home with my daughter all day, and then I would go to work and do the show at night,” says McLin, whose girls are now 8 and 10. “My daughter was none the wiser to this schedule. It’s been interesting as they’ve gotten older that I work a lot of weekends. I’m gone a lot, so there’s this sense that I work more than other dads do. I said to them once, ‘Of course, you don’t remember that I was the one on diaper duty all day and I was the only dad at the park,’” he laughs.

As his daughters have aged, McLin notes there is a “growing tension” due to his work schedule. While he gets to enjoy beach trips and spend all day with the girls during the summer, with nine shows on an average week and 20+ during the busiest times of the year, he works nights and weekends.

“There is a tension there, I feel it also. Every weekend, when they’re out of school, school vacation week, or February vacation week, I am working,” he notes. “It’s required me to be more vigilant about the calendar, When is this performance? I tend to try to be in the matinee shows to mitigate that feeling. I don’t want to sound super negative, it’s the life of a performer, but it’s been interesting to get a read on that growing tension as they get older and how we all spend time together on the weekends. We attend church and they’re in the choir on Sundays. I can try to request not to be in the first show on Sunday so we can go and have our time there.”

For Erdossy, his son is enrolled in morning preschool, which means every afternoon is theirs: “We have a really wonderful situation. For most parents, getting a kid into school is essential because you have to work. For us, I don’t really want to put him in a school because this is our time together. It’s nice, we get daytime together, which is rare and very special.”

The fathers report all three children love to come to the theatre. While having a blue dad is no big deal for the McLin girls, “It’s been pretty demystified for them,” their father laughs, 4-year-old Leo is starting to understand how his father has two very different roles in his life.

“Once he got older, and there were longer periods of time between coming and seeing the show, there would be times he would get a little nervous about it, like, “Wait a minute…Dad, but…not?” Erdossy says.

But now, “you can see just the shadow of the profile of the Blue Man and always he knows which is Adam — ‘That’s Daddy!’” Seiko says.

In fact, Leo might be too good at picking out his father onstage: “The last time he watched the show, there was one point in the show it was totally quiet, and Leo goes, ‘DADDY!’ ‘THAT’S MY DADDY!’ which he never does.”

Tall, bald, and blue, it’s easy to assume children — related or not — might be taken aback by the characters, who after each performance come to the lobby to meet and greet the audience. But Erdossy reports the opposite.

[caption id="attachment_8410" align="alignleft" width="786"]

“That’s one of the fun things about being in character here in the lobby at the end of the show. Kids, I would say 90% of the time, are not scared,” he notes. “The adults are the ones who are unnerved because it’s uncomfortable having someone staring at you who’s dressed like that. Kids, generally, have no reason to fear that person, especially little tiny kids who have not been taught to be scared by certain things. There’s no fear. There’s curiosity — you can see the little synapses firing inside — it’s pretty awesome.”

There are six men in the Boston company, one trio per show, all silent, bald, and blue, wearing identical black pants and long-sleeved shirts. With no headshots in the Playbill displaying what the actors look like without the skullcap and custom Blue Man Blue greasepaint, it’s impossible to match the six names in the program with the three men you just saw. And that is something McLin appreciates.

A self-described “musical theatre geek,” he recalls a trip to New York to see Broadway shows during one high school spring break: “I just remember being at the stage door and actors coming out, leaving the alley, and no one knows who they were. That’s amazing. I was really taken by that — that you would get to do this thing but no one would know you and you just have your life. That part of Blue Man I really, really enjoy.”

Showered and changed post-show, McLin could walk right out the front door of the theatre next to audience members, and they would have no idea that the guy heading back to the suburbs was the fantastical Blue Man who spent 90 minutes producing merry chaos onstage.

“I really love the anonymity,” McLin smiles, “that no one knows it’s me.”