Published in The Music Network
Entertainment industry veteran Anthony Field, aka the Blue Wiggle, talks to TMN about 20 years of wiggling, being awarded an Order of Australia medal, merch, the ABC and their constantly evolving audience.
Congratulations on The Wiggles’ 20th anniversary. What’s the secret?
I try to keep myself fit so when I’m on the road it doesn’t kill me; it’s so physical. (When touring) we do three shows on Sundays and two most days. We do about 350-400 a year. We used to do 520. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t enjoy the show. And the audiences are really into it, which is probably more important. There’s never a dull moment. When I’m not on the road I spend a lot of time at home with the family.
Twenty years for us doing the show is a real milestone. There’s a lot of great memories to take away. I could certainly do another five or ten years.
And you’ve now got an Order of Australian Medal around your neck.
Yeah, it’s humbling. But I don’t wear it around the house or anything (laughs). We just have to keep trying to put on the most entertaining shows for children. It was a really humbling thing, but I know there are a lot more people who deserve it more.
When you consider the Wiggles, Hi-5 and Bananas In Pyjamas, Australia has been a world-leader in children’s entertainment for some time. Is that by accident?
The ABC has always employed knowledgeable, qualified programmers and advisors on early-childhood shows. It’s meant that children’s shows here are really good for developmental age children. The difference is that the ABC really thought hard about the age groups. If you look at Playschool, it’s so right for really young children.
Three of us (in The Wiggles) are early childhood teachers, and so we bring our own knowledge to it. I think Hi-5 also came from early childhood advisors. In America, a lot of shows have come out of merchandise or commercial companies wanting to make a buck. We didn’t come out of that at all.
So how important is merch to the Wiggles machine?
It pays the bills for us. But touring keeps us going and we play to a lot of people on the road. We’ve also got our own TV studio. With merch, it’s good for the company but there’s a responsibility with merchandise. We don’t have time the time, the Wiggles, to really look that over.
My brother (Wiggles Managing Director of Production Paul Field) and Mike Conway, (Managing Director of Business Development) who comes from Standards Australia, they really look at the merchandise. And we get the children in to look at it as well. [The Wiggles recently retained the No. 3 position on Business Review Weekly’s Top 50 Entertainers list, earning $33.5 million in 2009-10, down from $45 million in 2008-2009].
You met your bandmates at Macquarie University, where you studied early childhood education. How did your training prepare you for your musical career?
It’s never deserted us. Because we’re pre-school teachers, it’s really helped us communicate with children. You have to develop ways to get the kids to do what you want during the show without becoming an overbearing adult. If we ask them to sit down, we’ll do it very gently. It’s different to ordering people around in a rock ‘n’ roll situation. We’re very conscious of the sensitive children’s egos out there.
Rockers can play for twenty years and the fans stay with them. But your group needs to constantly find new fans.
Yeah, it’s funny. It presents its own challenges. Every three years there’s a brand new Wiggles audience and it’s all new to them. Some children now don’t know who Greg is [Greg Page left The Wiggles in 2006]. And vice versa, older children don’t know who Sam is [Sam Moran joined The Wiggles that year]. We’re at the stage now where people are thanking us for the shows we did when they were kids, 20 years ago.
Last December, Cinemalive beamed your concert from Acer Arena into movie cinemas. What’s behind that?
It gives a chance for those people who can’t get out to the shows. The kids can get up and dance and wiggle in their seats and make as much noise as they want in the cinema. It’s perfect for children. It’s all the excitement of a live concert.
Do you still have goals?
To keep playing shows to an audience who wants to go see us, and still enjoy it. I’d also like to produce other TV shows. Halfway through this year, we’ll travel the country and through the outback in a circus-tent style. We’ll go all through Australia in this tent, in the round. We’ve never done it before. Keeping the standard up is the ultimate goal for me.