by Miranda Hale

They're four talented men with distinct, silly personalities, cute wardrobes, screaming fans and world-wide success. The Beatles? Nah, it's the Wiggles, the Fab Four for the preschool set. If you don't have a tot of your own, or watch the Disney Channel regularly, you may not even know who they are. But the success of the Wiggles is a phenomenon. They were Australia's wealthiest entertainers of 2004. They frequently sell out venues across the globe, and they have platinum albums, a TV show and popular DVDs. Their daily television show is part rock 'n' roll, part '70s variety show and part Sesame Street for the new millennium. They sing, they dance, they do skits. It's both exciting and educational, which is a hard combination to pull off. But the Wiggles do it, and kids (along with many adults) react with delight.

The Wiggles were formed in the early '90s while three of the Wiggles, Anthony, Greg and Murray, were attending an Early Child Education program at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. The Wiggles began as a class project for them, one that allowed them to combine their knowledge and understanding of children with their love of music and performing. The three friends began to write songs and, by graduation, had started a career as children's entertainers. In 1991, they recruited Anthony's friend Jeff to join the band. Influenced by rock 'n' roll, classical music and show tunes, they began to perform a high-energy live show that both kids and parents enjoyed, first playing shows at day-care centers and other small venues, but soon moving on to much larger venues as their popularity spread in Australia. A few years later, they were also famous around the world, thanks to their television show, DVD and CD releases and frequent touring.

Greg Page, the lead singer of the band (he wears the yellow shirt), says, "We're all pretty similar in our musical influences, which is pretty cool. And we combined all of that with what we learned in our education in order to create the Wiggles."

Page also believes that their education has aided the Wiggles' success, and helped them to do what other children's entertainment doesn't or can't: "Because of the education we've had, we understand children. We understand how they think, and we know how we should approach them and talk to them. We are teaching concepts, but we're not teaching didactically."

And it is this fun and silly form of edu-tainment that appeals to kids and parents alike. Unlike many other children's entertainment acts (Barney, anyone?), the Wiggles are indeed not only tolerated, but often loved by parents. Page believes that this is because, "Parents love to see their kids having a good time. Parents enjoy that and embrace it. They love coming to our shows. A lot of the feedback from parents is that it is a positive experience. The shows are not derogatory to anyone and are all about having fun. In a way, it's an escape from real world. Kids might not notice that, but adults appreciate it a lot. Whole families come to our shows -- parents, grandparents and kids can do it together. It becomes a bonding experience."

Page says that, at their live shows, he and the other band members "love watching the children dance and react to what is going on onstage. It's exciting to be onstage and watch the parents watch their children as well. The shows are engaging and entertaining, and we encourage everyone to participate from their seats. Everyone in the audience is included, through song and dance and pantomime. There is a real variety of entertainment styles in the Wiggles' live performances."

The live, instant feedback is the best part of the touring experience, according to Page. It's a quality that the Wiggles' work in other media (television, DVDs, CDs, etc.) cannot supply. It's the love of performing and the love of seeing happy, participating kids and pleased parents that keeps them touring.

Page also offers some advice to anyone who wants to entertain children, either professionally or just in your living room: "You must be able to understand a child's world. Speak and sing to them on their level. Forget about being an adult. You don't have to be childish, but be childlike. Think of yourself as a child. Be able to connect with your audience. This is true for any type of performer. If you don't have that connection, you are lost. All the study we did on teaching children enabled us to do that."

The Wiggles are smart, effective at what they do and wildly successful. Check them out once, and you and your kids will both be singing along with their songs and laughing at their jokes for weeks to come.

Publication date: 04/21/05

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