Blue Man Group show has a text message for you

During performances on troupe's current tour, viewers interact with show's story line by using mobile phones. Photos: This message sent to you by Blue Man Group

SAN JOSE, Calif.--I'm sitting front and center in an arena here crammed with 10,000 screaming Blue Man Group fans and am witnessing an odd dichotomy: The show is both a celebration and a repudiation of technology.

This is "How to be a Megastar," Blue Man Group's second touring rock 'n' roll show and one that is based on its previous tour in 2003. This is a show where fans are not only permitted to use their cell phones to snap pictures of the performance, they're actually encouraged to do so.

Blue Man Group

has always been on the cutting edge of interaction between its performers and its audiences. In its permanent shows--it is currently in Las Vegas, Boston, Chicago and other cities--there are frequent moments when cast members in their now-familiar black pants and sweatshirts and all-blue faces and heads come into the audience and bring fans up on stage.

But now, with "How to be a Megastar," the troupe is taking interactivity to a new level. By incorporating technology called Mobkastr from a company called Counts Media, Blue Man Group is hoping its fans can take part and feel more directly involved in the tour performances.

The idea is to give audience members a way to use the text messaging features of their mobile phones to interact with the show's overarching story line.

"At certain points during the show, you'll get additional content, and it's kind of an insider track to the show," said Howard Pyle, CEO of Counts Media. "It's kind of like 'Choose Your Own Adventure.'"

Essentially, audience members are invited to proactively send text messages to the Mobkastr servers, which then feed back a series of messages throughout the performance. In a sense, the idea is that the entirety of the messages that flow back and forth comprise a game of sorts that give viewers additional meaning about the show.

Unclear instructions
Unfortunately, I failed to understand the instructions---and had missed several cues informing the audience that participating in the Mobkastr experience would cost $1.99. When I texted the very first codeword, "blue" to the required address and got back a message that said, "Get 60 texts and replies. $1.99 to opt in. Standard msg rates also apply. T&C's Send STOP to opt out, or HELP for help. Send NEXT to begin now," I assumed it was an ad and didn't bother to respond.

Big mistake, apparently. And I didn't realize that the language was mandated by my mobile carrier and wasn't bland text in the form of a poorly written ad.

As the show went on, there were several moments when the audience was instructed, via an LED panel, to text further codewords to the Mobkastr system. But upon texting "rise," I was told by the system, "Sorry, a concert is in progress..."

Later, upon texting the required codeword, "shadow," the response was, "Sorry, you've submitted an invalid keyword."

Both those messages were also carrier-mandated, and not reflective of Mobkastr's technology not doing what it was supposed to. It turns out that by not responding to the message I thought was an ad, I missed my opportunity to participate in the interactive element of the show. And that was a shame, as that was precisely the element of the show that I really had wanted to see.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge Blue Man Group fan, and I've now seen them seven times in four cities. But in this case, I had really been interested in the technological aspect of the show, especially since the troupe's shows often express a somewhat skeptical view of technology.

Afterward, then, I talked to representatives from both Blue Man Group and Counts Media to find out what happened since I had left the show feeling entirely left out of the interactive experience that many people around me were seemingly having.

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