Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, everyone has had to make major life changes.
Even Australia’s bouncy and beloved Crayola-colour idols to the under-five set, the Wiggles, have found themselves having to adjust to a whole new normal. And the project that’s come out of that might be exactly what your kids need to wrap their heads around all the new rules and scary news.
Typically, the musical gang does 500 shows a year on tour. But right now they’re staying home, indefinitely, in Sydney, Australia. Anthony Field, a.k.a. the Blue Wiggle, shared that his new normal not only includes rousing his three sleeping teens with his 6 a.m. bagpipe and banjo practice, but also shooting a live “virtual tour” that tackles little kids’ concerns around COVID-19.
He spoke to HuffPost on a Skype call from the Wiggles headquarters, Hot Potato Studios.
Ba ba da bicycle ride
Like many parents, Field has been making the most of his unexpectedly abundant free time by taking his kids (daughters, Lucia, 16, and Maria, 14, and thirteen-year-old son Antonio) on trips outdoors for fresh air, activity and a socially distanced glimpse of other humans.
“Mate, what has been incredible is you that can still go out and exercise in Australia ― you can ride a bike,” he said. “It’s like the 1970s again. Kids are out on their bikes. People everywhere are riding bikes together.”
On these outings, the musical dad has loved having time just to talk with his teens. “It’s good to get to know them again, not being away,” he said. Having his eldest daughter, Lucia, home has been a special treat, since she’d otherwise be boarding at the Australian Ballet School, in Melbourne.
Here come the animals
Seeing Australian wildlife flourish has been another silver lining. Field is a keen animal lover and environmentalist. When he’s not singing about the yumminess of fruit salad or the toot, toot, chugga chuggas of big red cars, the blue Wiggle has another gig: hosting Australian reality TV show, “RSPCA Animal Rescue.”
He also recently did two original Wiggles reunion fundraiser shows (the first sold out in five minutes; the second was hastily added, just for over-18s, and held in a nightclub) with proceeds going to animal rescue volunteer organization WIRES.
The band wanted to support rescue efforts in response to the bushfires that decimated koala populations at the start of this year. Field still worries about rural Australians having to cope with a global pandemic back-to-back with the devastating fires. “It’s just sad for those people ― they’ve been kicked in the guts twice.”
Back in Sydney, he is grateful that the animals are getting a break during the shutdown. “I live on a river, and it’s cleaner now that the boats can’t go out. You see more of the sharks in there than before, and the marine life is just teeming.” He also enjoys seeing cockatoos and parrots everywhere ― not to mention fruit bats. “I love looking up at the sky and not seeing any planes,” he said.
The downside to wild animals taking over his home city? “The rats are going crazy!”
Dance the gloomies away
Like so many kids around the world, Fields’ teens have had to switch to online schooling. “One of them is OK with that, but the other two are just sick of it. They miss their friends,” Field said.
Fortunately, all three have creative interests to keep them occupied. Antonio is “a really great drummer,” and he also plays bass guitar. Maria is “a really great tapper” (tap dancer) and “a beautiful singer.” Lucia, of course, is the budding ballerina.
“If children find what gives them joy, they always have that to go back to. It’s beautiful,” said Field. “If I’d raised a doctor or a lawyer, I feel I would have failed,” he added.
“We say, ‘If you wash your hands, you become a hand-washing hero … you’ll help to save the world.’”
Food, food, food (oh how I love my food)
On the show, Blue Wiggle’s schtick is being a glutton. So what is Anthony Field bingeing on in quarantine?
Not what you’d expect!
“I’ve been eating a lot of asparagus. I know that sounds crazy, but I have three, four, five bunches of asparagus ― maybe six ―every day.”
He also worries he’s been overdoing the carbs. “My daughter Maria has got into baking, which is good and bad,” he said. “She makes a good cake. And scones. And muffins. I’ve been eating them all.”
And the overindulgence doesn’t stop there.
“I’ve also noticed I’m drinking a lot more than usual, well a little bit more, and I think I’m not the only person. It’s just boredom. You can’t go out! ... I probably shouldn’t have said that.”
No judgement here, Blue Wiggle.
For our video chat interview, Field was looking dapper in a stars-and-stripes bowtie and formal plaid jacket (to be determined, if the bottom half of this outfit was flannel PJ pants). Making a special effort now and again is something he recommends weary parents do, to boost family morale at home during the pandemic.
“If you’re in the same environment every day, for the children and for your own sake, sometimes you can spice it up a bit,” he said. “Put up some decorations. Maybe say, ‘Tomorrow we’re going to dress up for fun.’ If you put energy into it, you can change the vibes.”
He also suggests putting aside your own anxieties for a moment and taking the time to sit back and listen to your kids. “Most children are very, very funny,” he said, laughing.
Who’s in the Wiggle House?
On tour, the Wiggles have lights, sophisticated sets, dancers and a big cast on set. While the virtual concerts were recorded live, with no editing or retakes, to capture those live-in-concert vibes, they’re still on a much smaller scale. “Because of social distancing, only the four Wiggles and the cameraman were involved,” said Field.
So, what can we expect from the Wiggles’ first ever virtual tour? “We wanted to form the illusion of intimacy,” explained Field. “It is a concert in their living room, so it’s very intimate. And they’re very gentle concerts for preschoolers.”
From the perspective of the performers, the experience is a little different too. “It’s always fun playing music with your friends, but of course you miss looking into the audience and seeing a family dressed up like Emma, or a wide-eyed kid at their first concert, or a child that has fallen asleep in their parent’s arms,” said Field.
Here come the Wiggles
On the set list, among the familiar Wiggles classics, will be new songs that help kids make sense of these strange times.
“We did a song called “Social Distancing,” which basically asks the questions: ‘Why can’t I go to Nana’s place?’ ‘Why can’t I bring my friends over for my birthday?’ ‘Why do I have to wash my hands.’ said Field.
The answers to those burning questions are both logical and fun, to inspire kids to play their part in flattening the curve. “We say, ‘If you wash your hands, you become a hand washing hero … you’ll help to save the world,’ and ‘If we stay home, we’ll keep Nana safe, and we can say hello to her on a video chat,’” Field explained.
There’s also a hand-washing song that the Wiggles originally created for UNICEF last year that’s especially relevant now.
And a song about a birthday party, in which people drive by in their cars and drop off presents. Field noted that the Wiggles have been receiving many more requests for customized birthday messages of late.
“Because children are not being able to have their friends over, or Grandma or Grandpa can’t come over, some of them feel like their birthday doesn’t count this year ― that they don’t turn four or three.”
Parents can look forward to a little extra me-time thanks to this virtual tour: The first live show, “Let There Be Rock-a-Bye Your Bear” was released this week, for purchase on YouTube, iTunes and Google Play, and the next five are coming to living rooms soon, one by one, on a weekly release basis.
Kids ― go get your iPads!