‘Blue Man Group’ losers pay lawsuit

A New York State Supreme Court jury on Friday ordered the producers of “Blue Man Group in ‘Tubes’ “– one of Off Broadway’s most lucrative shows — to pay director Marlene Swartz $ 158,000 in compensation for her contribution to the show.

The producers, arguing that Swartz was a consultant to the offbeat attraction but not a director, said they would appeal the decision.

“Tubes,” which opened in Nov. 1991 at the 299-seat Astor Place Theater and quickly became a sellout, features three actors who paint themselves blue and perform a hip, funny and technologically sophisticated series of performance sketches that comment on everything from the culture of consumerism to the manipulative uses of video. The show won strong reviews and the bald, blue trio soon became a favorite of latenight talk shows.

Prior to opening at the Astor Place, said Robert Chan, the lawyer who represented the director in the case, the trio had presented a different version of the show at La Mama, the legendary cauldron for downtown theater-making, as well as once in Houston.

They had worked unsatisfactorily with two other directors before turning to Swartz, a founder and artistic director of the Soho Repertory Theater with a distinguished resume as an Off Off Broadway producer and director; Blue Man Group had themselves previously performed at Swartz’s theater.

No contract

The director began working with the three men — Phil Stanton, Matt Goldman and Chris Wink — without a contract, Chan said. A week before the Nov. 17, 1991 opening, producers Mark Dunn and Makoto Diguchi offered Swartz $ 4,000, plus $ 100 per week until recoupment, $ 150 per week thereafter. Swartz refused to sign the contract but accepted the compensation, which totaled $ 18,000 by the time of the trial last week.

Although the producers attempted to minimize Swartz’s contribution to the show, Goldman and Wink testified that she had helped conceptualize “Tubes” for a more mainstream venue and had helped them get back on track after their unproductive work with other directors.

Minimum testimony

Though the judge disallowed testimony regarding union minimums Off Broadway, the jury eventually awarded Swartz 2% of the show’s gross to date, or $ 158,000. That percentage is the Off Broadway minimum for a house the size of the Astor Place. The jury didn’t address the question of whether Swartz was a director in the traditional sense (though she is listed in the program as director); it merely decided that the 2% was fair compensation.

“One message this decision sends is that artists who add value to a production have to be compensated fairly for their services,” Chan said. “And you should have a signed, written contract.”

But a lawyer for the producers called the award “excessive.”

“We did not dispute the fact that she made a contribution to the show,” Joseph Tandet said. “She gave notes and helped conceptualize it.”

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