As a kid, Thomas Benko was musically inspired by Blue Man Group.
His dad took him into the city several times to see the group perform at the Briar Street Theatre, the ensemble’s longtime Chicago home.
“It really inspired me to play drums,” he says. “It was awesome and exciting and a big part of why I decided to keep playing.”
The Roselle native never dreamed that one day he’d be a part of the iconic Chicago show himself — as a drummer in the group’s band.
Currently, the shows, which combine music, technology and comedy to create a unique form of interactive entertainment for all ages, are playing in six major cities: Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, New York, Orlando and Berlin. Plus, there’s a world tour currently making its way through China, Thailand and South Africa.
This year, the performance art company turns 25, and to celebrate, they’ve released a book called “Blue Man World,” a cultural satire that dives into the world of the Blue Men. The book includes pictures, special artwork, graphics and interviews with Blue Man “experts.” Fans may get answers to popular questions such as: “Who are these Blue Men?” and “Where do they come from?” The book is available online at blueman.com/.
Though Benko didn’t come from a musical family, he grew up playing music. As a child, he loved banging pots and pans. Soon, he was trying to write his own music.
In high school, he was part of the Lake Park Marching Band when it won state. Between seeing performances like Blue Man Group and hanging out with friends who also shared a love of music, his talent and interest flourished.
About three years ago, when the Blue Man Group was looking for a part-time drummer, Benko auditioned and got the job. His role during shows is to keep the flow moving and to build a connection between the performers and the other band members. While he works off a composed framework, there’s room for flexibility.
“A big challenge is making decisions in real time — and doing it in a way that feels good and helps move the show in the right direction,” he says. “It’s important to connect with the other performers; you are (feeding) off them, and you are one unit.”
The show is never the same from one performance to the next, as each one is based off audience energy and intensity, he says. This helps create a heightened level of excitement. “It’s really fantastic,” Benko says. “It keeps you really ever-present.”
After each show, he evaluates his performance and reflects on how it can be improved.
“Every show is awesome, and every show can be better than the previous one,” he says.
In addition to his performances with the Blue Man Group, Benko also is a percussion specialist at Maine South High School and a member of the Chicago Bears Drumline, performing at all home games and team-related corporate events. He also plays with local musicians and is a member of a percussion duo called Clocktower.
Despite a busy schedule, Benko, who graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in percussion performance, says he hopes to stay with Blue Man Group for awhile.
“I love this show and the company,” he says. “Everyone really works with each other to create a great show.”