Matt Ramsey ‘95 performs, trains in Blue Man Group
January 1, 2012 - Accepting a dare to audition for The College of Idaho’s production of “Twelfth Night” turned into one of the best decisions of Matt Ramsey’s life.
But it didn’t seem like that on opening night.
“I still vividly remember standing back stage in the wings before going on, I had no idea what I was about to say,” the 1995 C of I graduate said. “That was one of the top two most nervous, anxious moments of my entire life, but it was also pretty exhilarating.”
Being on stage had hooked Ramsey.
“I think it’s very fortunate that I was at the C of I in a small theater department where I could receive the personal attention I got,” he said. “If I was in a big theater department I wouldn’t have gotten cast because I’m sure I was terrible that first play.”
Yet that role as Duke Orsino in “Twelfth Night” started Ramsey on a path that today has him in what many would consider a dream role - performer and associate director of live productions for the Blue Man Group in New York City.
Since first joining the Blue Man Group in 2000, Ramsey has performed on Comedy Central and the “Jay Leno Show,” thrown out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game, participated in a photo shoot on top of Sears Tower and performed at the reopening of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
“This role has taken me to places I never would have expected to go – it’s literally taken me around the world and places that were just amazing to me,” Ramsey said.
Becoming a Blue Man
After graduating and starting his professional acting career with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Ramsey’s opportunity to join the Blue Man Group came, naturally, out of the blue. While in New York City for auditions before starting a graduate program in acting, he heard about the ensemble for the first time and decided to send in his resume and photos.
“Before I left New York I got a call from Blue Man Group saying they were interested in having me come in for an audition,” Ramsey said. “I had to tell them I was going to graduate school but they told me to keep in touch and we’ll see you in three years.”
Ramsey didn’t give it much more thought until three years later, when he returned to New York for another round of auditions and saw a Blue Man Group business card.
“I figured I’d give them a call and before I could say anything more than my name the cast director said ‘Matt Ramsey! I’m looking at your resume right now!’ “Ramsey said, and within a week of auditioning, he was hired.
After completing Blue Man training, Ramsey joined the cast in Boston and performed there for two years. After a brief break for a part in a production of “Marty,” Ramsey started substituting for actors in the Blue Man Group’s New York cast when they were on vacation or there was an injury, and soon was doing that so often he joined the cast full-time.
In 2007, Ramsey was asked to help train other Blue Men and began working with one of the original creators as a performer-trainer. The special gig gave Ramsey an opportunity to direct casts in various cities to ensure the quality and aesthetic of the show was maintained.
After a period performing with the Blue Man cast in Chicago, Ramsey returned to New York in the summer of 2011 as an associate director of live productions in charge of training new Blue Men while still performing himself twice a week.
“I really, really love doing this role,” Ramsey said. “Even after 10 years it’s a fun, complex character who I’m always learning more about.”
Hero, innocent, trickster
Being a Blue Man comes with a couple requirements - actors must fit within certain height and weight requirements and be able to learn the show’s music. The real challenge is learning how to embody the essence of the character and act like a Blue Man.
“The character is a collection of archetypes,” Ramsey said. “He is a hero, he is an innocent and he is a clown, a trickster.”
“He’s a hero because he’s able and willing to move forward without knowing. A Blue Man must be bold and able to take action despite the uncertainty of a situation,” Ramsey said. “Yet he’s also innocent. There’s no ego involved, and a Blue Man experiences things for the first time, as a child would, with no judgment.”
For example, when a Blue Man encounters a prop, he doesn’t know what it is or what to do with it. Yet that doesn’t prevent him from trying to use it. The results are hilarious to the audience, yet the Blue Man doesn’t recognize how funny the situation is.
“Embodying this quality of unique heroic innocence is what’s really fun about getting to make this character work,” Ramsey said.
Being able to help new Blue Men learn the character - a two to three month, full-time job - is perhaps even more fulfilling.
“I think everyone who is a teacher and responsible for teaching someone something new finds that it’s really satisfying when you see that person succeed,” Ramsey said. “I try to instill in each trainee a value for the character. Once they’ve completed the training and passed their final test we send them off to a city to be part of a cast and they’re kind of on their own. It’s up to them to continue to learn the character and be wise with the role.”
Ramsey believes the characteristics that make a good Blue Man also make a good person.
“The qualities of the character, like the absence of ego, is something we could all use as people, and that’s something I can apply in my own life,” he said. “I see playing the Blue Man as work on myself as well and that’s a big part of why I’ve enjoyed the character for so long.”
Ramsey credits his experiences at The College of Idaho for helping him achieve success as a professional actor. From his role as Count Orsino to acting classes with a dozen or fewer students to a music professor who pulled him aside and encouraged him to be a vocal performance major, those experiences were invaluable.
“Thank goodness I wound up at The College of Idaho where I could thrive and I wouldn’t be drowned out,” Ramsey said.