Disney's Imagination Movers bring tour to Steeler country
On a recent break from the Imagination Movers' second live national concert tour “In a Big Warehouse,” Scott “Smitty” Smith was back in New Orleans, where he makes his home and the place where the group originated in 2003.
With three seasons of the successful Playhouse Disney's Emmy Award-winning TV series under his belt, he and fellow “Movers” Rich Collins, Scott Durbin and David Poche are happy to be on the road again.
“When we're touring, we actually get to see all of our fans,” Smith said. “And we're always looking for input. We're really looking forward to Pittsburgh,” he added. “I think we get a day off in Pittsburgh. The last time we came through, we didn't.
“Growing up in New Orleans, the Saints were abysmal,” he explained. “So everyone had a backup team. Mine was the Steelers. That was the era of Lynn Swann, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris. Rich (Collins) was a Redskins fan, and his backup team was the Steelers, too.”
The Movers appear for only two shows Wednesday, at 4 and 7 p.m., at the Benedum Center as part of the Cohen & Grigsby Trust Presents series, presented through the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Imagination Movers began as a high-energy rock band with music geared toward children that appeals to their “adults,” too.
“We're just four guys (now) living in the same neighborhood,” Smith said. “Three of us were having kids around the same time. We were at Scott Durbin's son's birthday party — Scott was a teacher for 10 years — and we were lamenting how there weren't many real people in children's TV.”
Explaining a bit more he said although there is lots of children's programming, most of it involves animated characters or puppets — not people such as Captain Kangeroo and the late Fred Rogers.
So the friends came up with a concept and started writing and playing songs and music, intially performing for local birthday parties and community events.
“Rich has been playing music for a long time,” Smith said. “Dave and I picked up music. We have written about 150 songs now. We'll be rockin' out” onstage, as they do in the series.
After gaining support from local fans, Smith said the Movers came up with a concept for a children's TV show, and pitched it to their local PBS affiliate in New Orleans, which said it was interested but did not have funding for the show.
Undaunted by the TV project turndown, the Movers decided to concentrate on their music.
“We recorded in a home studio in Rich's house,” Smith said. “We wanted to support what we were doing, and the music took on life of its own.
In fact the Movers started to build a regional following, selling more than 100,000 copies of their self-produced CDs and DVDs.
Their three indie CDs, “Good Ideas,” “Calling All Movers” and “Eight Feet,” along with their DVD “Stir It Up,” have won 14 national awards, including honors from the National Association of Parenting Publications and Parents' Choice.
The group got its big break in 2005, when Disney scouts saw them perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
“That's where Disney found us,” Smith explained, “right before Hurricane Katrina.” The hurricane claimed three of their homes and the Movers' office, but a music deal was inked in 2006.
“They didn't know we had a TV idea, too,” Smith said.
In 2008, Walt Disney Records released the group's first nationwide CD, “Juice Box Heroes.” In September of the same year, the Movers began airing a 30-minute segment on the Disney Channel's preschool programming block.
“It takes six months to film a season,” Smith said. “We're lucky that we film in New Orleans, where we live, even though they are 14- to 16-hour days.”
Each episode of the show involves an “idea emergency,” and the Movers and some special guests who will join them onstage such as Nina, Eddie the Monster and Warehouse Mouse, provide guidance toward a solution.
“It's important the songs you hear (on the show and stage) are what we play,” Smith said. “It's us playing the instruments, for better or for worse. We enjoy it. This is a job for us, but we are really enjoying it.”
He said the stage show “has a thin narrative thread” connecting lots of song, dance, movement and music. “We also have some one-liners only the parents will get.”
Tickets are $27.25 to $39.25 and can be purchased online at www.pgharts.org, by calling 412-456-6666 or at the Box Office at Theater Square. Information is available by phone and online about additional special offers, including a Mini-Movers Package and group rates.