Position | Vice president of creative affairs and executive producer, Blue Man Group
Age | 35
Years on staff | 11
First dramatic role | Lantern bearer in a third-grade production of The Mikado
Secret to keeping artists both creative and focused | "Letting them make mistakes and admitting when I make mistakes."
Favorite color | Pink
Blue Man Group starts with three bald men standing still, coated from noggin to nail in shiny blue greasepaint. Then all hell breaks loose. The trio drums on buckets of paint, coaxes music from odd instruments, and smashes Twinkies. Behind the scenes, Jennie Willink, 35, Blue Man's vice president of creative affairs and executive producer, dodges the flying gunk to provide the order that creatives hate—yet desperately need.
Founded in New York as a street performance trio in the 1980s, Blue Man today is a global operation, with antic, high-energy shows in seven cities worldwide. Willink—who comes off as a shy contrast to her zany bosses until you note the skull lights in her office and the dark purple nail polish—signed on as a project producer in 1995. At the time, Blue Man was a place where brainstorming sessions raged endlessly, with little accomplished efficiently. "We'd have the same discussion over and over again," Willink says. In 1999, the founders realized they needed help and created a job for her at Blue Man's headquarters in New York. "I was the receptacle for the creative group to spew their ideas into," she says. But some were wary. "The company started from salons of friends talking about stuff and trying it out," she says. "The idea of bringing systems to what had been a total creative free-for-all was kind of like, if it were me, I would have been bummed out too."
Willink quickly proved that she was there only to channel, not limit, creative freedom. She came up with a project calendar that she calls the "Rubik's Cube," which holds some 50 endeavors at any given time. Colleagues, speaking in a Schwarzeneggerian accent, call her the "chart master." A recent meeting covered several major events, including an opening in Amsterdam, a new tour, and the construction of a theater. Willink blinked, then suddenly sketched out a plan. "It was like watching a crazed supercomputer doing 64 million simultaneous computations," cofounder Matt Goldman recalls. "Eighteen months. Five huge projects. Boom." Today, Willink's planning has scored a host of new projects, including musical instruments for kids and a children's television show. There is a downside to her job, however. Most of her wardrobe is stained with blue paint.
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.