Josh Elrod spent his early years as a visual artist. He loved to draw, loved to create. When it came time for college, he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago.

At some point, he caught the performance bug, or perhaps rekindled an interest that he had as a kid back home in Nashville when he played the drums in garage bands. He remembered loving the feeling of being on stage, and decided to see if he could recapture it.

Elrod moved to New York, studied acting, and was going through the rigmarole of supporting himself as an artist — traveling by subway to his job at an art gallery — when a woman on the train approached him.

“I don’t know if you are an actor or a model, but I would like to talk to you,” she told him.

Because of this chance encounter, Elrod became both.

The woman signed on as his manager, and within a few years, Elrod was doing TV ads for Levi’s and going to casting calls. You probably recall the Levi’s commercial: Elrod played a studly handyman called to fix the apartments of women, who damaged their adobes purposefully to earn his house call.

Elrod is now part of Blue Man Group, the original avant garde performance art and percussion ensemble. He will lead the blue trio into Portland for performances at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday at Merrill Auditorium.

Blue Man Group has been around since 1987. They perform coated with thick blue face paint.

Elrod joined in 2004. He has performed with Blue Man Group in Boston, Toronto, Amsterdam and New York, and will depart the current national tour to return to Blue Man Group’s standing original gig at Astor Place Theatre in Manhattan.

Blue Man Group is known as a percussive ensemble, so Elrod’s upbringing as a drummer helped him fall naturally into the role.

But it’s much more than music. He describes the job as part drumming, part acting and part clowning.

“It’s very physical,” he said. “We’re on stage 90 minutes, moving the entire time. Some of those moments I am playing very hard, and playing a number of different instruments and drums while moving across a very large space. It’s demanding, and you burn a lot of energy. It’s helped get me into really great shape.”

Elrod recalled the audition and casting process as unique and rigorous.

His first audition lasted less than a minute. “I stood across from a guy who was one of the casting people, and he said, ‘I want you to take these sticks and play this pattern with me and look me in the eyes.’

“I thought that maybe they were judging me on my drumming, but later it was easy for me to see that the moment I walked into the space, they were checking me out. The audition began as soon as I walked through the door.”

Elrod did well enough to warrant a second call-back and then a intense two-day workshop with six candidates that involved learning pieces from the show, getting into makeup and costumes, and performing in front of a core group of people associated with Blue Man Group.

Elrod nailed the audition.

“I remember leaving the space and thinking, ‘If I don’t get the job, I have had an incredible experience doing it.’ I did the best I could have possibly done.”

Moments later, as he was walking down the street away from the audition, his phone rang. It was the casting director with a near-instant offer to join the group.

After six weeks of training, Elrod did the show at Astor Place Theatre in Manhattan for a few weeks, then went to Boston for 18 months. He did a run in Toronto that lasted a year, and was part of the group that opened Blue Man Group in Amsterdam.

The current touring ensemble travels with four Blue Men, although only three perform each night. That forces one guy to take a night off. Elrod does six shows a week. There’s also a four-piece band.

Blue Man Group is performing classic bits on the current tour. Think of this as Blue Man Group’s greatest hits, with a few new numbers.

“It’s a little bit old with a little bit of new,” Elrod said. “A lot of the new stuff has to do with technology.

“We love a low-tech bit of humor, but there is also something seductive about how the Blue Men can interact with technology that was not available two years ago or even last year.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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