A new home for the blue men

ballon-rohbau
A balloon serves as a blank for the dome

The venue where super-sized films were once screened is now home to the blue men’s performances with their pots of paint, drums, and plastic tubes. How the IMAX on Potsdamer Platz became the Stage BLUEMAX Theater.

In the years when 3D was not yet the ultimate form of entertainment, sheer size was a real crowd puller. And that is precisely what the “Discovery Channel IMAX Berlin“ am Marlene Dietrich Platz 4 had to offer with its oversized screen. Covering the whole field of vision it gave viewers the impression that they were right in the middle of the film action – attacks of dizziness included. The huge dome – a world first in terms of architecture if not film technology – housed the screen and an audience of 440.

Sky blue balloon

bau-der-kuppelIn August 1997 thousands of curious onlookers, architecture fans and journalists bore witness to one of the most curious procedures in recent building history. On the top of the IMAX’s building shell an oversized balloon, previously cut to the dimensions of the building from 2,000 square meters of plastic sheeting, expanded into the sky. After an hour the giant was fully inflated reaching a diameter of 35 meters – the formwork for the actual concrete dome. In order to prevent the ball from deflating it was placed under continual pressure, the workers could only access the bizarre building site through an air lock. Over the next eight weeks, under quasi deep sea conditions, the concrete was sprayed above head, layer upon layer, until a wall thickness of 30 centimetres had been reached. Only then could the seats and screen be fitted.

Foyer and projection equipment were installed and the big screen adventure could begin. The IMAX Berlin opened at the end of 1997 and quickly became the world’s most successful big screen cinema. However only for a short time. The competition set up in the neighbourhood, and on top of that came a legal dispute with the Canadian distributor – the takings sank continually, despite upgrading to 3D. In July 2006, after nine years, the operator gave up.

Blue Man Group

 

 

Anarchy from New York

Just two years before the closure of the IMAX, an new entertainment adventure, which could just have easily failed, started up in the immediate neighbourhood, in the Theater am Potsdamer Platz. However, the show which celebrated its European premier in July 2004 would prove a lasting success. The anarchic, loud, and colourful show “Blue Man Group“ ventured the leap over the pond from New York to Berlin. Chris Wink, one of the three original Blue Men, recalls: “People warned us. The Germans are stiff and rather unemotional. But they were all wrong.“ Contrary to expectations the blue men enjoyed the same success in Germany as that following their courageous start 13 years ago in New York. In 1991 three drummers, Chris Wink, Philip Stanton, and Matt Goldman came together to create a new form of musical expression, going beyond the restrictions of their instruments. This resulted in a stage show which was funny, musical, as well as philosophical. “We wanted a primal element in our show, something creative and inventive”, explained Philip Stanton. “We threw the living room furniture out of the window in order to have room to build drums. We knew instinctively that we needed drums.“

With PVC and foam rubber to success

Music on plastic tubes

In a shop for PVC hose they bought material, building drums from polyvinyl chloride tubes which they struck with foam rubber paddles. The pitch of each note was determined by the length of the tube. In black costumes and blue skin, the three courageous performers drummed their way through the Off-Broadway theatres – and right into the hearts of the audience. Within the space of a few years the show became transformed into a company which played throughout America and even in Tokyo. And since 2004 on Potsdamer Platz too. At the highly acclaimed premier it was already clear: The Blue Man Group will be staying in Germany. In 2006 the time had come for their own theatre. The IMAX cinema directly opposite, which was now empty, offered itself up as a potential venue. While the Blue Man Group continued to generate record visitor numbers in the big theatre, reconstruction work was in full progress on the other side of the Marlene Dietrich Platz.

A move in one night

Radiant blue: the Stage BLUEMAX Theatre at night

The large round dome was ideal for the show: The tiers of over 600 seats rose steeply, providing an excellent view of the Blue Men’s percussion spectacle. The space held fewer visitors than the generous Theater am Potsdamer Platz with 1,800 seats. However, the show benefits, it lives from the immediate interaction with the audience. On February 01, 2007, the time had come. The evening before the troupe unleashed their pyrotechnic drumming at the old venue, and in the same night moved to their new home. On February 04, 2007 the official opening party took place with the guests of honour. Since then that same dome construction, which ten years previously had been given shape by a sky blue balloon, plays host to the three blue men. And with them their instruments: 60 drums and rhythm instruments are at the ready for each show, including 14 specially made PVC tube drums. When fitted together they have a length of 180 meters. And the Blue Men are not alone on the stage: A four-piece band plays music on two drum kits, six percussion sets, bass, and guitar. 150 microphones transmit the sound to a 60,000 watt sound system – anarchy with the acoustic quality of a large concert hall. 130 movable spotlights, 70 stroboscopes, and eight mobile projectors put the blue men in the right light. Thus the IMAX cinema became the Stage BLUEMAX Theater – and if the lads continue in the same fashion with their mixture of comedy, music, and artistry, it will remain so in the future.

 

Text: Bernd Ratmeyer | Photos: Vincent Mosch and Rolf Schäfer