Discord on blue 

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Blue Man Group:  Mega-Stars, or Mega Union Busters?
While the Blue Man Group swish their PVC pipes, Keith-Moon it with their kitchen-utensil drumsticks, and spray the front poncho section with edible shrapnel, beneath their three blue faces more than 40 blue collars hold the show together: The folks in make-up and wardrobe touch up the blue paint and spring-load the tricks the performers hide up their sleeves.

And as the Group tours 42 cities, stopping in San Antonio on October 11, the crew is grumbling. In June at their home base at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, employees voted to join the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees. So far, management has refused to negotiate or comply with National Labor Relations Board requirements.

The roadshow, called “How To Be a Megastar 2.0,” is a deconstruction of the pop-stars’ progress, featuring the silently naïve Blue Men learning to rock, step by satirical step. If it was “How to Be a Mega-Union Buster,” here’s what it would look like:

The Blue Men don’t speak, so naturally they can’t enter into talks. Instead, they’d load a “Petition to Review” appeal into a mini-bazooka and launch it cross-country to the more conservative U.S. District Court in D.C. before the NLRB can file something with the union-sympathetic L.A. court.

“The Blue Man Group is very fond of doing things the Blue Man Way, and oftentimes that’s very counterintuitive to the industry standard,” an audio technician told the Current on condition of anonymity. “They think they want professionals, but when they get a professional and that person’s opinion is contrary to their own, then it’s dismissed out of hand.”

Perhaps its approach to unionizing is in keeping with the Group’s independent approach to entertainment. The Blue Men began as street buskers in New York City, and soon became off-Broadway darlings. They were hired as the mascots for Intel computer processors and Mirinda soda, and now they’re an international franchise. (Incidentally, the London and Berlin crews are both union-represented).

When the Blue Man Group debuted in Toronto in 2005 using non-union labor, about 300 protesters picketed, The Globe and Mail reported, and politicians accused the Group of being the “Wal-Mart of the theater world.” Currently, Vegas union organizers are circulating scathing press releases, saying, “The true face of the Blue Man Group owner Matt Goldman is green, the color of money,” and that what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. Rumors abound about a nationwide labor boycott, but as of deadline, San Antonio’s AFL-CIO and IATSE Local 72, which numbers 160 members, weren’t planning action.

“From our perspective, we are engaged in exactly the process that’s spelled out, by the, I don’t know, the organization who governs it,” Blue Man Group spokesperson Laura Camien said.

More by Dave Maass

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