Emma Watkins talks NL love and Embracing the Colourful, Whacky and Wonderful World of The Wiggles

They are the world’s number one preschool entertainers, having performed over 350 shows for more than 1.5 million fans in North America since 2005 alone, a marvel considering the coloured clad Aussies have been putting smiles on faces since 1991. 

Yes, The Wiggles are the cream of the crop when it comes to child friendly entertainment, providing eye popping visuals, infectious song and dance numbers embedded with real world knowledge that enrich and enlighten as well as entertain. 

Emma Watkins, the beloved Yellow Wiggle and first female member of the group, caught up with The Newfoundland Herald ahead of the groups return to St. John’s for The Party Time Tour!, which hits Mile One Centre on Wednesday September 25th and Thursday September 26th. 

Q: I’m sure you guys get a lot folks come up and say ‘I grew up with you’ and ‘The Wiggles were the soundtrack to my childhood’. Even with yourself, Lachlan and Simon joining Anthony in The Wiggles in 2013, the brand has been growing in leaps and bounds since 1991. Almost three decades of entertainment. Is it surreal to hear those kinds of comments?

When people say that to us about their children having watched us for the last five years or eight years or 20 years I can so relate because I used to watch The Wiggles when I was little. And even though Anthony never wants to hear that (laughs), I used to watch Anthony when I was young and the only reason why I remember The Wiggles age is because they’re a year younger than me. I grew up watching The Wiggles as a child and I went to the concerts and I had all the videos. I remember even from my childhood. 

Q: I know you were involved with The Wiggles team before you became Yellow Wiggle, but in terms of it becoming a global brand, so far beyond Australia at this point, was there a moment where it felt like wow, this is a big machine. 

When The Wiggles first started it was very much part of Australian childhood. It was very nostalgic for all Australian families. And even when I was at school I remember that they became really big in America. So from then everyone’s always talked about The Wiggles being one of the biggest Australian exports. And so that was just kind of common knowledge. But when we joined and when we were asked to be Wiggles ourselves I think that was kind of the scary part. We knew what reputation that the originals had and I think for us it was making sure that we could live up to their legends and their reputation of being this music band for children all over the world. And so whilst it’s a very different journey, you’re a band growing together and growing in success, especially this new generation of Wiggles. We already knew how popular they were and for us it was about retaining that audience and also bringing something so that our audience could grow with us

Q: The Wiggles have always combined an amazing mix of education and entertainment. From those early days with Anthony and the founding members to now, how important is it to thread that line between entertainment and something with substance that enriches the minds of children?

Oh absolutely and that really was the background for The Wiggles music to start with. Three of the original members were in Uni together studying early childhood development and so that really was the background for all their songs. Looking at how a child sees the world and how they view the world and their family and what’s exciting to them inside and outside the house. When we were asked to be Wiggles we did about eight months of training with the original Wiggles, which was an amazing experience because we were learning from the originals and learning the language that needed to be used when talking to children and when singing for children. And it really is about that education through entertainment which is the best part of their learning because it’s combined and most of child learning really is through play and through activity. And so we try and make sure that our music has a physical reaction to it as well. Whether they can get up and dance with it or sing along it’s participatory, it’s an inclusive activity. Whether or not children can get up and dance or not, whether they may not be able to hear or their vision might not be good, if the child is able to participate in some way then they’re at least learning through their own actions. 

Q: Branding has always been very important for you guys, staying on message and presenting what you guys want to represent are not going for big money grabs. How important is it to stay on course with The Wiggles brand and really represent the ideals that the foundation is based upon?

I think that’s always been a part of it. And once you’re in that headspace, once you can really understand the way Anthony has been trained you kind of get on that bandwagon and you become acutre at finding the different subject matters for children and the way that it should be brought to them and in what kind of media and all the rest of it. The Wiggles is really about having fun and being positive and finding things in the world that might be different for different people and different cultures. It’s a very pro social world and it’s about modelling that positive community life. But it’s like finding the differences and celebrating them. It’s definitely trying to be as multicultural as you possibly can. 

Q: In terms of performing for children, I’ve always thought that must be a challenging balancing act. You mentioned earlier how you guys had basically a crash course in training before officially joining the group. With children, attention spans are what they are at that age.  If you don’t have your routine down things can go south in a hurry. Did you ever have those moments where it was like wow this is harder than I thought or was The Wiggles brand so established by the time you hopped on board?

I learned that you have to be so specific in your direction and the outcome so that you’re able to deliver with a directness so that the children can follow along with what you do. And you’re right, with that age group their attention span is so short. Children are the best audience because if they’re not engaged you’ll know it straight away. So it’s really good learning for us. They’ll just go off and eat something or go to sleep or whatever they want to do. I think in that way it makes you a better performer because you’re always learning from them and you’re always trying to keep them engaged. I think because our show is all played live, all of our music is live, we play all the instruments, I think that engages them quite quickly. They’re so interested in the sounds of instruments and we break it down so that each instrument plays separately and they can see what sound that instrument is making. That whole idea of live music just isn’t done as much anymore. So I think that’s definitely a big part of The Wiggles being  hands on and for them to be able to experience music. 

Q: Coming back to Newfoundland next week, and now it feels like you’ve been growing in Canada in leaps and bounds. I know you have a very strong fan base here in Newfoundland and Labrador. What’s your take on the island from past visits?

We love being in St. John’s. You know there’s something about it that feels so homey there and we have such a warm reaction, such a warm welcome from the people in Newfoundland. I guess because a lot of Antony’s heritage is very Celtic and we do Scottish dancing and Irish dancing in the show, lots of people relate that. It’s one of our best areas because they totally understand the Celtic background for our show as well. So we’re pretty lucky to have that understanding from the people and the generations of Newfoundland and that’s what why we love coming. 

Q: What can your fans young and old expect from this Party Time Tour? Obviously there’s so many songs and sounds that the fans are so accustomed to at this point and big stage sets and larger than life characters.

It’s a big singing and dancing show. It’s so interactive that really everybody can join in from the children, parents, the grandparents. Mainly the parents and the grandparents know the lyrics better than the children because they might have been the children 25 years ago and now they’re watching it again. It’s got lots of different dancing from around the world. And we put a new character this time for her debut, Shirley Shawn the unicorn. Now we finally have a unicorn which is very exciting. We brought her and we have a really really tall giraffe which is about three to four meters tall and the giraffe goes out into the audience, which children just love. The rest of our group are dressed up like giraffes. And that’s probably my favorite part of it.

Tickets for Thursday September 26th are SOLD OUT. Wednesday September 25th performance can be purchase online at mileonecentre.com and at the box office!

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