A company that organizes flash mob events around the country will come to Portland in August to stage a high-visibility dance in a public place, but the organizer won’t say where.
Staci Lawrence, co-founder of the for-profit California company Flash Mob America, would say only when the flash mob will occur: 5 p.m. on Aug. 5, a Monday. She promised it would be a very public place in Portland, and she hopes that people come out by the hundreds.
“The more the merrier,” Lawrence said. “We’re looking for at least 200 flashmobbers to surprise a large group of people. We can’t say publicly who it is we are surprising or where we are doing it, because that would give it away. But we are going to surprise a group of about 500 people.”
Flash mobs refer to a gathering of people in public spaces to perform a song or dance. They are usually organized via social media, and give the appearance of being spontaneous. In fact, they are rehearsed and well-choreographed events, Lawrence said.
“The illusion is that flash mobs are something we put on Twitter and people show up. In reality, it’s a full-scale production. We spend weeks recruiting people and letting people know we are coming,” she said.
That process has already begun. Flash Mob America sent out a news release this week, and has begun recruiting participants for the Portland event.
Flash Mob America asks people who are interested in participating to sign up at its website, flashmobamerica.com. Participants will be given details about when and where to meet for rehearsal, what to wear and what to expect. But even they won’t know the location of the event until the last minute, Lawrence said.
Flash mobs began in the early 2000s. They have become hugely popular on YouTube, largely because of the curiosity factor. Maine has had a few smaller flash mobs over the years, including one in June involving yoga in Monument Square.
LARGEST EVER FOR MAINE
If the August one shapes up as planned, it likely would be the largest one ever attempted in Maine. Lawrence would not provide any details, other than to say “a Maine organization has hired us to surprise other people.”
“Flash mobs are a little passe, just because there are so many of them,” said Chris Kast, brand strategist for the Brand Company, a Portland marketing and advertising firm. “But Maine being Maine, I haven’t seen any really big ones done here yet.”
Kast said flash mobs often are designed to bring attention to something, whether that’s a product, a place, or a “moment of joy,” he said.
Kast has been involved in corporate events where flash mobs have been organized as a surprise for employees, which is something Flash Mob America might be doing in Portland. Kast said he has also heard of flash mobs organized to promote a product or business or a tourism destination.
Often the flash mobs are recorded, and the video goes “viral” online or on social media platforms. That will happen in Portland, Lawrence said. Flash Mob America will have a camera crew on hand to record the event, and it will be available online almost immediately, she said.
Flash Mob America began in 2009 after the death of pop star Michael Jackson.
Lawrence and her business partner, Conroe Brooks, produced a tribute to Jackson by recreating Sweden’s “Beat It” flash mob. Later, they honored Jackson posthumously on his birthday. After that, they were hired to produce a flash mob to surprise Jackson’s sister, Janet.
It was then they formed their company.
“The reason I do it is because it brings so much joy to people. It is my way of spreading joy and making the world a better place,” she said. “We spend so much time online, this is something that brings people together face to face. It is born electronically, but manifests itself in human form.”
For Portland, Flash Mob America is putting together a program that will involve a medley of two or three songs. Under consideration for the dance are “Pump It” by the Black Eyes Peas, “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore, “Feel this Moment” by Pitbull and “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” by Fallout Boy.
Brooks, whose career includes singing, dancing and acting, will travel to Portland with a small group of entertainment industry professionals to lead the flash mob. He will direct a team that will teach the dance to local participants.
He sang in the R&B group Special Generation, and played the role of Sam Cooke in the movie “Little Richard.” He starred in the Showtime movie “2G’s & a Key” before working with director Garry Marshall in developing “Happy Days” the musical and landing roles on TV in “Heroes,” “24,” “FlashForward,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “The Unit” and “Will & Grace.”
Lawrence said Flash Mob America is looking for anyone “who is fun, passionate, outgoing, loves creating joy for other people and loves creating community. This is a gift to the community. Literally, we are looking for every body type, every ethnicity. You don’t have to know how to dance. You just have to be willing to go for it and have a good time.”
Flash mobs are fun, and although the event is rehearsed, they feel spontaneous because it’s a one-time experience, unique to a specific time and place, she said.
Lawrence is a Michigan native who moved to Los Angeles to become an actress. She described herself as an actor and filmmaker.
She has had modest success as an actor, landing recurring roles on two TV series that have since been canceled. “It hasn’t been as great as I would imagine, but I haven’t given up,” she said, adding that Flash Mob America allows her to stay in the entertainment business between acting jobs.
Flash mobs also enable people like her to follow their heart.
“A lot of our flashmobbers might have the same dream that I did,” she said. “They can go out and be a star for a day.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier contributed to this report.
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]