LAKEVIEW — Known for their colorful performances and equally colorful faces, the Blue Man Group have long been a staple of Chicago’s theater scene. And now there’s a way for those with sensory issues or needs to experience the show in a more relaxed setting.
This Sunday marks the return of the Blue Man Group Chicago’s annual sensory-friendly performance, specifically designed to accommodate and welcome the autistic community and their families.
The shows are “quite special to perform,” said long-time “Blue Man” Callum Grant, who will be one of the trio of entertainers onstage at the family friendly event.
Held at 4 p.m. at the group’s Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted, the full-length 90-minute performance will feature a more relaxed environment than you’d find in a traditional Blue Man Group show. There will be dim lighting and bean bags in the theater lobby, as well as quiet corners for those seeking a sensory break from the high-energy production.
During the show itself, the video screens, sound and lighting will be reduced to lower, calmer levels (although the production will still use strobe lights). Noise-reducing headphones will also be available upon request, and the performers will modify the interactive elements of the show to be a bit more subdued as well.
“There’s a sort of slight adjustment to how you approach the audience,” explained Grant, a Scottish actor and musician who just celebrated his 18th anniversary as a Blue Man Group performer — seven of those with the Chicago production. Rather than climb over the audience’s chairs, for instance, the Blue Man performers use the aisles during the sensory-friendly show. And when interacting with the crowd, they take an approach rooted in curiosity, respect and patience.
It’s not lost on Grant that the inquisitive, non-verbal Blue Men characters might have special resonance with the autistic community. “I’ve probably had some of the most endearing audience interactions [of my career] during these performances,” explained Grant, who warmly recalls the time an audience member stood up to hug him in the middle of a sensory-friendly show. “I had to fight to remain in character and not tear up, to be honest.”
While sensory-friendly or “relaxed” performances are starting to become more common in the theater world (the Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf and some Broadway in Chicago productions offer them), the Blue Man Group were early adopters of the concept. The group held its first sensory-friendly performance in 2014, partnering with the divisive autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Annual sensory-friendly Blue Man Group shows continued until 2019, when the pandemic put a pause on the tradition.
To celebrate the return of an event that Managing Director Jack Kenn described as “incredibly rewarding,” the Blue Man Group have added in a gooey bit of pre-show fun this year. The group is partnering with the Sloomoo Institute, a River North-based experiential destination, to host sensory activations featuring artisanal slime and kinetic sand in the theater lobby before the show. Audience members will even receive a small complimentary jar of slime to take home with them.
Those who’ve seen the Blue Man Group before are in for a less slimy treat as well. The sensory-friendly performance will feature the new four-minute opening scene that the group added to the full-time production back in July.
Tickets for the Blue Man Group’s sensory-friendly performance are $49, and are currently available online. A portion of sales from each ticket will be donated to the Naperville-based autism advocacy organization Turning Pointe Autism Foundation, which seeks to raise the quality of educational support for children and young adults with autism. More information can be found on the Blue Man Group website.
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