If you have preschoolers in your house, there’s a pretty good chance that Disney Junior is a part of your viewing routine. In addition to some of the current BIG names like DOC McSTUFFINS and SOFIA THE FIRST, there’s a new crew of up-and-comers making a voyage to the bottom of the sea… THE OCTONAUTS. Based on a series of books that first surfaced in 2006, the television series actually got it’s start in the UK, until becoming a pretty hot import here in the ‘States this past year. In an effort to reach new audiences, THE OCTONAUTS entered into a partnership with Westfield Shopping Malls for a live tour, OCTONAUTS: TO YOUR STATIONS [Note: I don’t think that Disney Junior actually has anything to do with the live tour]. This FREE family event made it’s way to Illinois this afternoon for a stop at the Westfield Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, where we and a couple of my little ones’ preschool friends (and parents) took part. It was great fun for the kids, but slightly tainted by a mall staff that had no idea how to properly run a live event or tactfully engage with small children and their parents/guardians.
OCTONAUTS: TO YOUR STATIONS features a three-person cast consisting of Captain Barnacles Bear and Kwazii Kitten joined by a human friend. Through song and audience participation, this trio presents a fun little adventure aboard The Octopod, capped off by a rendition of the 1977 STYX hit, “Come Sail Away.” Honestly, there’s not a lot more I can say about a brief performance that probably lasts no more than twenty minutes or so.
But, allow me to back up a few minutes… before the show.
We arrived at 1:45 – just fifteen minutes prior to the 2pm show. The folks we were meeting with had arrived at 1pm, and secured a viewing location. As we approached the small stage area, there were tables set-up with folks from THE CHILDREN’S PLACE, YU KIDS ISLAND, and GYMBOREE. There was also a juggler, some tables that had a giveaway entry going on, and some certificates to commemorate children becoming an “Honorary Octonaut” (along with markers to fill in the kids’ names). The crew from Gymboree was handing out some cool little playballs, and one staffer was blowing bubbles – which were also being given away. I snapped a couple of photos just to establish the “lay of the land,” but didn’t know what I was capturing until after the fact. Almost immediately after Addie spoke to the Gymboree folks, a woman that we’ll call “Mean Mall Lady” swooped in and scolded the bubble-blowing Gymboree employee in a hostile tone, with legitimate anger on her face. “You need to stop blowing bubbles and giving them out. They’re a distraction for the kids.” I chalked it up to an oddity and kept on moving. But what a strange thing to witness. Unknowingly, I had the moments beforehand on digital “film” —
Now, problem or not – there’s a way you should approach people when you’re working in a public space – especially a family event. We’ll come back to Vader here in a little bit. Let’s talk “Mall Cops.”
If you’ve seen Kevin Smith’s MALLRATS, the “game show in the mall” scene resonates here. Hardcore “Private Security” as the Westfield Warriors are known, here we have a guy that I’m not even going to blame for being out-of-line… no – I’m going to blame a complete and utter lack of training and experience. It’s not the barricade at a METALLICA concert… so let’s rough-up some four-year-olds, WHO WILL ABSOLUTELY NOT LISTEN TO A STRANGER (or their parents in many cases)…
Now, keep in mind that this is before the show has even started. So after being aggressive with kids, the guy decides to start doing the same with the parents along the ropes. One of the people he approaches? ME. “I’m gonna have to ask you to move upstairs,” he says. Yeah, I’m going to push the stroller with my 14-month-old in it upstairs, while my 4-year-old is on the show floor. “My daughter is in there,” I say. His response? “Well then I don’t know what to tell ya.” How about nothing at all? But, I kept my mouth shut… and stayed put. So in the meantime, this guy made his way down the line telling people to “stay on the brown tile.” Because people were just getting trampled in the streets, of course…
I’m all for “crowd control,” but a good starting off point would be directing the flow of people as they arrive – by utilizing clear signage and having friendly staff members on-hand to direct families to the proper spots before they settle on a location – not minutes before a show that they’ve already settled in for.
So the show starts, and like any event we attend, Addie ended up working her way to the front. There she was, shaking her butt and clapping along…
She came back to me a few times, but the front was the place to be. But at the end of the show? The thing is over, and the meet-and-greet is about to begin… and who decides to rush the stage and become a part of the action? My daughter. Yep… onto the stage she went.
I blame my sister for this. She’s a country music performer, and after inviting Addie onstage a few times, it’s hard to convince a four-year-old that this is not the norm. Either way, THE OCTONAUTS’ human assistant played it cool and helped Addie down.
Addie and her friends got in line proper, and we did the quick photo-op and were on our way.
While I’d kept quiet about the mall staff, what I noticed after all was said-and-done was how many parents were commenting on the rude behavior and overall abrasiveness of the Westfield Hawthorn employees. The “Mean Mall Lady” above apparently had an assistant “in a grey sweater,” who it was pointed out to me yelled “Get that Mom out of there!” when a mother went under a rope to get her child after the show. The two women that apparently require training in “people skills” were spotted together sulking… right next to the overzealous rent-a-cop during the meet-and-greet.
While some parents dealt with the aggressive staff (not everyone had poor interactions), the kids all had a great time – and that’s what counts. THE OCTONAUTS are a good bunch, and it was still a fun afternoon… especially since we hit the play area for an hour afterward. I also discovered that Westfield Hawthorn has the finest “Family Lounge” that I’ve ever seen in a public space… one that openly states “DADS WELCOME.”
What’s interesting about this is that the sign shouldn’t have to highlight Dads (“family” is the key word) – but whoever made it obviously knows that there’s an uphill battle currently being fought in which some still struggle with the notion of involved fathers. Regardless, it’s a great room that really is designed for the whole family. Nice seating… things to play with… private nursing areas… washrooms sized for kids and grownups, and Sprout playing on TV.
I think that this Family Room, coupled with the fact that “Westfield Family” exists as an outlet for events is a GREAT thing. There’s a lot of potential to win back families as the retail landscape continues to (d)evolve (I was saddened to learn that The Disney Store in Hawthorn recently closed, as did Build-a-Bear Workshop), and I’d like to think that the few boneheaded actions that were on display this afternoon were isolated incidents in one mall that can be corrected for the future.
THE OCTONAUTS: TO YOUR STATIONS continues it’s tour into October. For dates and locations, check out the official event page on Facebook.
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