Local entertainment group reinvents the relationship between artist and audience
By Megan Kamerick
In 1987, a fire proved an unusual opportunity for a group of formerly itinerant performers who had made Albuquerque home. The flames took out a warehouse with most of their props and costumes and one of their other businesses.
“We actually met as a team and said, ‘Okay, we have to start over because we lost pretty much everything,’” recalls John de Wolf, who was among the troupe’s founding members.
That’s when the Pink Flamingos were born (some say the mythical phoenix that rises from the ashes was actually a flamingo), and the “Pinks” went on to build a highly successful entertainment organization playing for corporate meetings, trainings, and other gatherings. One gig even included a performance for Sir Richard Branson on his private island, and they most recently played for 15,000 people gathered at an event for the essential oil company doTERRA.
While the group’s signature show is a mix of high-energy music and dancing, with multiple performers (sometimes several hundred people join them onstage), the members have always been entrepreneurial, continually reinventing themselves through new ventures over the years. Their latest iteration, Artrageous, features live painting, puppetry, singing, and dancing, and plays at festivals and arts centers. One of de Wolf’s favorite parts of the show is recreating Van Gogh’s Starry Night using black light while singing “Across the Universe” and “Dream On.” Closer to home, they’ve become franchise owners in a wellness concept called OsteoStrong, and now oversee training for all its franchisees.
It’s a heady journey for a group who met as street performers in Vancouver, Canada. As itinerant artists they arrived in Albuquerque in the early 1980s, and stayed because that’s where the money ran out. Dan Moyer and Deborah Noble organized the troupe to provide entertainment at what was then known as Uncle Cliff’s amusement park.
“We did a lot of clowning and juggling,” says de Wolf. “It really did help set the stage for what came later.”
Moyer is a great salesman, de Wolf says, so he got the troupe involved in creating events at Coronado Mall. They also owned a print shop, a cleaning business, and several other endeavors over the years.
“We realized early enough that none of us really wanted to work as employees,” de Wolf says. “We didn’t fit anywhere else, so it just made sense.”
He confesses that at the beginning, while Moyer and Noble could play music and sing, “the rest of us were pretty talentless.” That’s one reason they initially focused on audience engagement. That built their brand among corporate audiences, but it also tapped into an essential part of the Pinks’ mission: interaction with an audience.
“Everything we do is designed to create an atmosphere where the guests feel comfortable and feel inspired to participate. That could be joining us onstage. That could be tapping their toes at their seat,” de Wolf says.
Eventually de Wolf and his colleagues did learn to play, and the business grew. Today, a number of the 20 or so regular members live on a large plot of land near Tijeras, where the group also has its offices, studios, and warehouse. Others live in town or even in other states, but often come together when they tour.
The corporate circuit has kept them busy, and has also alleviated some of the uncertainty that comes with relying on ticketed performances, but the ticket-buying Artrageous audience is where the Pinks are focusing these days. This endeavor is what de Wolf calls the final cycle of the group’s entertainment journey.
“We’re about generating moments and generating spaces and going on a journey with the audience,” he says.
And also with each other. One goal troupe members always had was to see the world—and this life has offered that. De Wolf spoke at the Pinks’ headquarters as the tour bus was loaded up outside in preparation for a swing through the Midwest for Artrageous, followed by shows in Mexico. The group has done about 118 shows over the past year, including its corporate gigs, and more than 3,000 in its history. As such, they have met all kinds of people in communities across the country.
“I would say in stark contrast to some of the news, what we find are wonderful, diverse audiences that have fun with each other,” says de Wolf.
Their venture into the OsteoStrong franchise grew out of one member searching for help for early onset osteoporosis. OsteoStrong is a patented system of machines designed to strengthen muscles and stimulate bone growth. Several other members of the troupe started using the system as well, liked the benefits, and decided they wanted to bring it to others, says John’s wife, Lisa de Wolf, who focuses on the OsteoStrong part of the group’s business.
It’s not that far from the Pinks’ traditional wheelhouse, Lisa says. “One of the most successful things about the Pink Flamingos is that they’re so inclusive: they cater to the audience at hand. It’s very similar at our wellness center. It’s as if we’re bringing them onstage and we want them to feel comfortable and like they’re the stars of the show.”
Kyle Zagrodzky, founder of OsteoStrong, found kindred spirits in the Pinks. “They embody the culture I want for my franchisees,” he says. “Everything they do has high standards, and they’re fun to be around. I want to be a Flamingo when I grow up.”
John de Wolf declined to give the group’s revenues, but says generally they have broken even in the last few years. This will likely be the first year they are really profitable, and compares them to any solid, local business (perhaps with a dash of feathers and neon). But at the end of the day, he insists, “We are hard-working, boring people—truly.”
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