Gimmick Theater Through The Ages

Photo: Blue Man Group

BLUE MAN GROUP, 1991–present
The Gimmick Performance art for the masses; went legit in 1991 with Tubes. Three guys painted blue play with food and pipes.
Critical Comments “One of the messiest performance pieces ever … and also one of the most delightful.” —The New York Times.
“Failed art.” —The New Criterion
Franchising Success New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Berlin. Toronto will go up in May. The CD was a Grammy nominee; the DVD went platinum.
Cast Members 65 men have been painted blue; nine are now working in New York.
Jeopardy! Question? Yes. (As a video clue.)
Cross-Promotions Official mascots for Intel; one ad this year for wireless technology has them wearing branded jet packs. Also, recorded a song with Dave Matthews.

Photo: Oleg Micheyev/Stomp

STOMP, 1991–present
The GimmickFound-object percussion for the masses. British street-theater troupe bangs on/with trash cans, push brooms, etc.
Critical Comments “Doing to percussion music what Mummenschanz did to mime.” —Columbus Dispatch.
Franchising Success London and New York shows, plus two or three world tours. Stomp has played the Acropolis, Ramallah, and Oprah.
Cast Members 160 to 180.
Jeopardy! Question? Yes. (Video Daily Double.)
Cross-Promotions Target, Coca-Cola, and the Australian Apple Board (“Apples have a very pungent sound when you catch them correctly”).

Photo: Rudy Archuleta/De La Guarda

DE LA GUARDA, 1998–2004
The GimmickAerial artistry for the masses, in which Argentine acrobats fly and spin above a standing audience.
Critical Comments “It lacks the wit of Blue Man Group … But man, those kids can fly.” —Richard Zoglin, Time.
Franchising Success Made well over $3 million in six years, including its just-ended New York run.
Cast Members 169 agile swingers and backflippers.
Jeopardy! Question? No.
Cross-Promotions The Gap, Rockport, Coke, and an Israeli phone company. Also, gigs at the VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards and the 2000 Detroit Auto Show.

Photo: Carol Rosegg/Symphonie Fantastique

The GimmickUnderwater puppetry for the masses. Basil Twist’s fishy-looking fabrics swirl in an aquarium to Berlioz’s story-symphony.
Critical Comments “No mere head trip, no random turning of a kaleidoscope … There’s wit here that goes beyond words.” —The Times.
Franchising Success At least 2,500 performances since Twist’s initial two–year run at HERE—every one of them in a theater with fewer than 200 seats.
Cast Members 34 underwater puppeteers; Twist still plies the strings on occasion.
Jeopardy! Question? No. (But the Berlioz piece has been.)
Cross-Promotions Liquor sponsor Hpnotiq created a tribute drink, Symphonique. And Kiss My Face claims to keep performers “soft and supple.”

TONY N’ TINA’S WEDDING, 1987–present
The Gimmick Audience-interaction connubial dinner theater for the masses. Critical Comments “One’s enjoyment … will be based on what might be called the participatory factor. Eagerness equals entertainment.” —The Times.
Franchising Success Has grossed at least $200 million, including national runs. Next up: Cruise lines and casino chains.
Cast Members Likely more than 2,000. Mark Nasser, the original Tony, now plays his dad.
Jeopardy! Question? Yes.
Cross-Promotions Product placement: wedding dresses and champagne, with other brands written into the script.

Photo: Dov Weinstein/Tiny Ninja Theater

TINY NINJA THEATER, 2000–present
The Gimmick Shakespeare for the miniatures: Plastic ninjas from gumball machines perform Macbeth and the like.
Critical Comments “[Macbeth] delights with surprising stagings and hilarious bits of literalism.” —Village Voice.
Franchising Success Has toured as far as Stockholm, but creator Dov Weinstein won’t franchise: “I don’t want to become just a ninja manager.”
Cast Members One man; hundreds of ninjas.
Jeopardy! Question? No.
Cross-Promotions “The Henson Foundation supports this production,” says Weinstein, “but we don’t have to dress up like Kermit or anything.”

Gimmick Theater Through The Ages