Feeling Blue

May 2019 View more

After parlaying her love of sewing into freelance costume designing for several area dance companies, Naperville native Liz Rench has found a permanent home with Chicago’s Blue Man Group. As the group’s wardrobe and makeup supervisor for the past seven years, she is responsible for creating the iconic Blue Man look when they take the stage at Chicago’s Briar Street Theater.

But why blue?

Originally, the color was chosen for the performers as a neutral color that audiences could look at without any preconceived notions or prejudices. In fact, the color is actually called Blue Man Blue.

“The Blue Men wear vinyl caps for every show. We cover their ears with the caps, then paint their heads blue with greasepaint makeup,” Rench, 41, says. It takes one cake of Blue Man makeup—per Blue Man, per show—to achieve the effect.

Rench manages the wardrobe and makeup department by maintaining and altering costumes, fitting performers, keeping stock of everything they use, handling purchases and invoices, making decisions regarding their backstage run track, and working about five shows a week.

“We also have frequent outside gigs, like television appearances, video, and photo shoots, and other engagements,” she says. “We always enjoy taking the Blue Men out into the real world.”

A few hours before each show, Rench sets up the dressing rooms and backstage items and catches up on laundry. She also helps the Blue Men into costume and makeup. Amid all of the hustle backstage, she also touches up the Blue Men’s makeup throughout the show before they go back on.
“Many of us crew members describe our backstage flow as a well-oiled machine,” Rench says. “After the show, I help the Blue Men out of costume and reset all the items we’ve used, so that we’re ready to do it all over again for the next performance. I’m always looking for ways to keep things moving as smoothly as possible.”

Rench began on the stage herself as a ballet and contemporary dancer, studying at Naperville’s DanceWest Ballet. After graduating from Naperville Central in 1995, she moved to Chicago to continue dancing and working various freelance jobs, then settled in Berwyn.

Rench learned to sew at an early age from her seamstress mother. She started making clothes for herself and friends who were in bands in high school. Later, she was a freelance costume designer for several dance companies, including Thodos Dance Chicago, where she designed costumes for Ann Reinking for two Bob Fosse pieces Reinking had made famous. From there, Rench became wardrobe supervisor for Luna Negra Dance Theater and then River North Dance Chicago, with which she toured Russia for six weeks.

When she’s not at the theater, Rench spends much of her time with animals, rabbit-sitting for people when they travel. She also has three rabbits herself. “One of them currently holds the Guinness World Record title of oldest living rabbit. He’s 16 and comes to the theater often,” she notes.

Rench also brings her dog to work with her. “My dog, Sheri, spends a lot of time with the performers and the crew to help people relax,” she says. “We call it ‘Sherapy.’ ”

Photo by Justin Barbin