The skills and talents of a Blue Man performer is incredible. What are some of your talents that have really helped you with your career as a Blue Man?
I’d been a competitive gymnast in high school, so that’s come in handy w/ Blue Man and other roles. I’d taken up drumming (and some piano) while in elementary school. Later, to the horror of my acting professors (both during undergrad and grad training), I kept up my involvement with percussion. Throughout my undergrad years at the University of Wyoming, I was fully committed to its marching/symphonic bands, wind ensemble and percussion ensembles.
Have you enjoyed a lot of traveling with your career? What are some of your favorite places for shows?
Another unique facet of BMG is its value of having employees with fulfilled outside lives. When the outside work is artistic, it’s even better (the thinking is that if each person is allowed some flexibility to be better artists on the outside, they’ll be better artists for Blue Man as well). That’s no different w/ me, and BMG has been incredibly generous in allowing me to work w/ now upwards of 21 different theater companies and directors over the years. Many of those artists also tour, so between Blue Man and these other engagements, I’ve gotten to perform in now 50+ cities in 18 countries. It’s hard to pick a favorite among them, but I’d say Amsterdam (and our whole year spent running the show in the Netherlands) is my favorite Blue Man stop (a favorite, also, for the quite cool, industrial-looking theater in which we were housed), and that Lisbon, Portugal was my favorite non-BMG performing stop (though my favorite theater w/ a non-BMG company was the Lyceum in Edinburgh, Scotland; it’s a beautiful house). We also recently did a televised Blue Man performance in Shanghai, China; that was really something.
Performance arts are very important to the Simpson family. Do you agree? How did your family's interest in the arts influence you? Did you know as a young person that you wanted to be an entertainer?
Yes, completely agree! (and I’ll get swift calls/emails from my family if they read here otherwise =-) The role of the arts in my family was so monolithic. Regardless of whatever professional station my folks were inhabiting, we were always surrounding, cloaking ourselves in cultural expression and pursuit. The house was constantly filled w/ music of all genres playing from stereos or coming live from guitars and pianos and drums; there’d be Mom rehearsing theater pieces or talking about a project w/ a rotating door of community collaborators; there’d be Dad rehearsing a Cyrano De Bergerac monologue to the bathroom mirror; there’d be Maggie’s drawings, stories, songs, Milward’s classical piano and extemporaneous (and often hilarious) monologuing and political commentary.
When I snagged one of the prestigious eight spots at the National Theater Conservatory, that changed things a bit. It wasn’t until my 1st year project—a John Patrick Shanley a play called, “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” in which I played the title character), that a sizable attitude change began. The play was particularly challenging, requiring particularly risky, raw, emotional work from me. I found myself completely disappearing into it. I loved it, and based on how my peers and professors responded to the performance (and how good it felt to be on stage doing work like this), I finally realized: “Hey, you know what? I’m an actor. And I think I’m going to be good one.”
Many Wyomingites are proud of their state, more so than other places I have lived. What do you like about having grown up in Wyoming? How have your Wyoming values helped you as an adult?
I love my home state for a lot of reasons. First off, I do have to disclaim that I was born in Oregon and spent my first years there (and returned often). I hadn’t thought of that as significant in the past, but I believe our early years are deeply, unconsciously formative of who we become. The Oregon period did make its indelible mark. As for Wyoming, the first things I remember was a sense that may have grown out of my knowledge that our family had such a long and intimate history w/ the state, and that was a sense of belonging. The two families were so inextricably linked to Wyoming (and Montana); it was hard not to feel that the land was as in our blood as our own family members. To be raised around the extended Simpson and Livingston families was to know that life was a magical, cherished, celebrated thing to be lived fully, joyfully and generously. And while I imagine that value system could have been transplanted into just about any setting in the world, it was a particularly magical thing to have it be the beautiful, majestic, wide open, rugged scenery of Wyoming. The feel of Wyoming is so unique, so multi-faceted from corner-to-corner (and growing up w/ the knowledge that it has for so long contained the lowest population in the country amplifies the mystique and the feeling that if you’re living there, it’s a privileged destiny that declares it).
Wyoming’s always been a live and let live kind of state and it certainly was when I was living there. There were the normal pressures to belong, to find a clique, to plan for traditional working and living, but there was also a good deal of freedom to be little different, a little unsure, a little odd (all me as some point or another). The closest friendships I made in my Wyoming years I still have and largely keep in good repair. It’s a pretty great feeling! As far as values, I think the way Wyomingites work and relate really effected me. There was always something no-nonsense about the Wyo work ethic and the way Wyomingites take each other in. It seemed to me one didn’t need to put a fancy sheen on things or do a song and dance to somehow over-exaggerate the results of your work or over-broadcast your personal validity; the work and the way among people simply spoke for itself.
I also think the common decency and politeness I generally experienced growing up in WY I tend to expect from people in the east. A given big city day can bring a lot of unpolite moments (to say the least), and in spite of losing my better angels here and there, I’ve generally tried to keep it polite in the face of all that.
How do you like to eat Chugwater Chili? What other products, activities, or events do you think are distinctly Wyoming?
My mom always used to add a little beer to the chili and I always topped it w/ cheddar cheese and sour cream. I’d probably keep it a little simpler now.
Always proud of the WY label when I see it. Always bring back a good sized sack of goods for my NY friends from the Wyoming Buffalo Company, Meeteetse Chocolates, Wyoming Whiskey, several others. As for other activities and culture, nothing like Wyoming rodeo (particularly the Cody Stampede), the parks, the summer parades (few states do July 4th better!), UW athletic and cultural events, the horseback riding, the fishing—hard to add on to what so many tourist brochures so accurately lay out about our state, because they’re true!