July 19, 2013

Flash mob event headed for Portland

The organizers won't say where the flash mob will turn up on Aug. 5, but they are now recruiting and hope to make it the largest in Maine's history.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

In this July 13 file photo, more than 50 seniors participate in a flash mob dance in Eugene, Oregon. 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. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch)

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.


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.

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