From Blue’s Clues to indie rock, Steve Burns shares a lesson on pursing your dreams and following the journey.
After moving to New York City to achieve his dream of being an actor nearly three decades ago with only a duffel bag, $200 and some books, actor and musician Steve Burns started out living on a shelf in an apartment hallway.
He made his debut as the original host of the children’s television show “Blue’s Clues,” which first aired in 1996.
On April 4, Burns spoke to Webster students in the Loretto Hilton Center about his journey as a performer.
The Spring Headliner event was organized by Campus Activities. Blain McVey, a student event coordinator for Campus Activities, said the event was intended to bring nostalgia to students.
“Most students that are enrolled at Webster right now either grew up watching ‘Blue’s Clues’ or are at least familiar with it. Monday night sent us back in time to when things were simpler and probably very joyful,” McVey said. “We were able to feel a piece of that childhood as Steve talked with us on that stage.”
Until 2002, Burns played the character Steve on “Blue’s Clues,” where he spoke to the camera in a way that interacted with the audience at home and worked with an animated dog named Blue to find clues and solve riddles.
“Steve was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he was the deepest creek in the forest. Steve had trouble with shapes and colors, he didn’t know where the graham crackers were. So, he needed your help,” Burns said during the event.
Burns auditioned for the role thinking it was a voice-over role for a cartoon character. After arriving at the audition and seeing a camera, he turned to leave, but then he heard his name up next.
Burns described making a point to “act the hell out of the script” during his audition. He would get very close to the camera, and in a polite but desperate plea, ask, “Where is the triangle? Will you help?” and following a short pause, rejoiced, “Great! Thank you!”
Burns said he always strived to make the script personal as if he was talking to each individual child watching the program. “Blue’s Clues” aired in 120 countries, was translated into 15 languages and reached millions of children.
“It was really a conversation between me and one other person: you,” Burns said. “It always felt very, very personal, and for that reason, I gotta say that even when I’m standing here on stage, speaking to strangers, it does kind of feel like I’m talking to an old friend.”
After his last appearance on “Blue’s Clues” in 2002, Burns was able to pursue his other dream: being a rockstar.
“I didn’t know what I was gonna do, but then the universe smiled upon me and said, ‘You can live your dream.’ I had recorded music, and I had gotten my tape to my favorite band, the Flaming Lips, and they liked it,” Burns said. “And they said, ‘Hey, do you wanna work on this together?’ Then we wrote a whole album together and they took me on tour with them.”
Burns said that after performing as the opening act for the Flaming Lips in front of 5,000 people at the Eventim Apollo Theatre in London, he realized he was bad.
“I started playing that first song, everybody rushed to the stage. By the third song, ALL of them went to the bar. And they never came back, for the whole tour,” Burns said.
However, Burns said he is not discouraged by the experience.
“I’m a guy who lived two of his dreams. I did it twice. I moved to New York on an opportunity to be a gritty stage actor. That didn’t happen. My favorite band opened the door to indie rock stardom, they said come on in, and I failed. I was bad,” Burns said. “But it doesn’t feel like failure to me, looking back. I achieved what my dream was, ‘Blue’s Clues’ was a stage. And I moved people with that. It was wonderful.”
Now, Burns says he lives rurally, “literally in an off-grid cabin in the woods,” and spends his time on woodworking/building projects and playing music.
McVey said Burns’s story emphasized to students that the journey is more important than the goal.
“Steve’s speech focused on the goals and dreams we set for ourselves. Along the way, we figure out more about ourselves and what we really were meant to do. Or maybe we won’t – and that’s okay too! Steve reminded us that it’s okay to enjoy the moment and seize it when we feel it’s right,” McVey said.
Burns left the audience, most of whom grew up watching him as Steve, with his words of wisdom.
“Here’s what I’ve learned: that the dream isn’t the point. But the dream exists to fuel the journey. I look at it now like I’m navigating a ship and the dream is the polestar. The dream is the star in the distance, and you aim your ship at it. you’re heading toward it because you need a direction,” Burns said. “But along the way, you have to develop a sensitivity to the things that are happening in your life that feel good and true. Those are clues.”
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Kate McCracken (she/her) is the lifestyle editor for the Journal. She is a double major in Philosophy and History, minoring in Professional Writing. She has always loved to write and create stories, and she wrote her first book at age 10. Aside from writing, Kate also enjoys photography, environmental/animal activism, paranormal investigation and oneirology, the study of dreams.