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Writers Talk About Writing

How the Visual Thesaurus Inspires the Blue Man Group

We were pleased to discover that the Visual Thesaurus has fans in the Blue Man Group, the highly creative outfit that has been producing theatrical shows and concerts for the past two decades. We talked to one of the original Blue Men, Matt Goldman, about how the group has drawn on the Visual Thesaurus for inspiration in both their stage productions and in their latest venture, an innovative pre-K and elementary school known as the Blue School.

VT: People might be surprised to hear that the Visual Thesaurus is useful to the Blue Man Group, since what you do is a non-verbal type of performance.

MG: There's a lot more text in our show than anyone realizes. They think of us as three characters that don't speak, but there's a tremendous amount of written material in the posters and the signs we use. And then there's a lot of voiceover. We're all writers at the end of the day, whether we're writing bits or press releases or whatever, so writing and wordsmithing is a huge and wonderful part of our process. And it's also one of the things that we love to do. I mean, we'll talk about words forever.

VT: So the Visual Thesaurus helps inspire your creative process?

MG: There's something you guys have tapped into because everyone who sees it gets excited. The first time that we actually started using it, people were like, "Oh my God, we haven't seen it before. Look at that, that's so cool!"  It works for many different kinds of learners. It really resonates with me because I'm a visual learner and a kinetic learner. I think it taps into both types of learning. It also fits the way I write my own notes. My own personal notes when I'm listening to someone are more like a web than a very organized outline. So that's another thing that's kind of exciting. Where we really started using it was when we were rewriting the mission and vision for the Blue School.

VT: How have you used the Visual Thesaurus for that?

MG: What we were struggling with in our educational model is the center, which consists of the child, the parents and the teacher. Are they learners or are they inquirers? So imagine you're doing a mission statement for the school and you're using a thesaurus that works exactly in the way of an inquirer, where one thing then branches out into multiple other things.

VT: And that's the type of learning you're trying to encourage at the Blue School.

MG: Exactly. When I brought it in, everyone in the room in was very excited.

VT: That's great. Could you talk a little more about the Blue School and its mission?

MG: The formal mission is to cultivate joyful, creative, compassionate inquirers and to use courageous and innovative thinking to build a sustainable and harmonious world. So it's kind of a big mission. There are four pillars that it stands on in practice: creativity-based learning, social emotional-based learning, choice-based learning, and play-based learning. If we can maintain those things all the way through, we hopefully will be helping kids be lifelong learners, have a joy of learning, and instill an extra sense of resiliency. Something's got to shift because the world is clearly neither harmonious or sustainable at this very moment.

One of our Board of Advisor members, Sir Ken Robinson, talks about how there are a lot of resources in the world being squandered, but he feels the one that is has the biggest impact, and that we can affect immediately, is the human creativity that is being squandered.

VT: What grades does the Blue School cover?

MG: Right now we have two-year-olds through 1st grade. We're growing a grade a year. And we've committed through 5th, but we're actually looking for space now that might take us through 8th grade.

VT: And language arts is a big part of your curriculum?

MG: Yes, an amazing part. Because we only have up to 1st grade now, they're just now beginning to get to the part of actually being able to read.  And an awareness of synonyms and how words connect plays a really important role.

VT: So overall, you'd say that the Visual Thesaurus works well with Blue Man Group's visual and kinetic approach?

MG: As I said, I think there are all sorts of different kind of learners and people connect to the way things are laid out in so many different ways. Unquestionably, whether or not someone is a visual learner of this sort, across the board when people see it who've never seen it before, they are really excited by the Visual Thesaurus. It taps into something primal, the way our own circuitry is wired.

VT: We like to think of it as working the way our brains work.

MG: I think that makes a lot of sense because it resonates in that regard. Playing with words and moving things around are all part of creating a story -- even through the selection of a specific word. I'm looking at learner and inquirer right now because we're referencing inquirer in the Blue School mission statement. And so if we're going to change it to learner, then that creates a whole cascade of changes throughout all our materials, because these are really important choices that one makes to tell the story, just through your own usage.

I love going to the Visual Thesaurus. Every time I see it, every time it pops up, it's just satisfying and nice and fun, which is really what it's all supposed to be, right? I mean, it is a form of play. Everyone who sees it connects with it, so it's one of those things that just resonates for people.

To find out more about the Blue School, check out their website.

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Comments from our users:

Monday December 14th 2009, 10:49 PM
Comment by: El (Los Angeles, CA)
Well VT, you educate in so many ways. I don't know much about the Blue Men. I certainly never thought about them having much depth. Your interview is an eye opener. They seem to be much more interesting than I knew.
Because of you I will pay more attention to them, maybe even catch a show.

Now I'm off to their web site and to read about their school.

Thanks VT,

Wednesday December 16th 2009, 8:01 AM
Comment by: El (Los Angeles, CA)
I have now been to the Blue School website. There, bold and progressive teaching is shown to be a benefit to a
select group of children. Their creativity will be stimulated.

Bold and progressive teaching is a benefit to VT subscribers. These two themes are neatly tied together in this interview. I am delight to read that the VT is a major tool of the Blue Man Group. Both of them are an inspiration.

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