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In Character with Andrea Fretwell

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Flash mobs, at least in Portland, are as much about overcoming a fear of performing as they are about shocking the public, says Andrea Fretwell, founder of PDX Flash Mob!, here organizing a small impromptu flash mob in Pioneer Square with Jen Forti (right) and Karolyn Wyneken.

In some cities, flash mobs are random, out of control and even criminal. Then there's Portland.

Andrea Fretwell, a medical researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, a budding life coach, and founder of PDX Flash Mob!, calls her events 'community oriented dance.' Nobody gets hurt, nobody gets shocked, and a lot of people have fun, Fretwell says. Coming soon to a public place near you.

Portland Tribune: How long have you been in Oregon?

Andrea Fretwell: I grew up in Boring.

Tribune: Does that explain your involvement in flash mobs?

Fretwell: I'd always wanted to do one. I just decided I was going to and found a couple other ladies who were willing to choreograph.

Tribune: I've never understood how flash mobs and choreography go together. If flash mobs are supposed to be spontaneous, how can they involve choreography?

Fretwell: The goal was to have a performance that looked spontaneous but actually had several practices beforehand. We did our practices at the abandoned Washington High School. For our first practice, we had about 90 people show up, which showed there was interest.

Tribune: How many at the end?

Fretwell: For our final performance, there were about 70. We walked into Pioneer Courthouse Square. I had brought a friend who brought his sound on a rolling car. When the security guard for the Square saw the cart he tried to stop us, but we started the music and told him it would be over in three minutes.

Tribune: Reaction from passersby?

Fretwell: Folks who were commuting via Max stopped and hopefully missed a train.

Tribune: But not a lot of astonishment?

Fretwell: Maybe because it's Portland. Maybe it wasn't crazy enough. The security guard even relaxed and said, 'Go ahead,' and 'Move on.' There were no true consequences to our actions even though he was threatening them.

Tribune: Is the threat of consequences part of the reason for flash mobbing?

Fretwell: It could be, especially in a place like Pioneer Square, where you are supposed to pay for a permit.

Tribune: So are you planning another flash mob?

Fretwell: Yes, but if I tell you (when and where) then it won't be much of a surprise. But I can say it is happening this month on a Saturday.

Tribune: Anyone else doing flash mobs in Portland?

Fretwell: Around Halloween every year there's a Michael Jackson Thriller flash mob, but I don't know who does that. Portland Improv in December did two songs in the main atrium at Pioneer Place mall. Everybody stopped and started singing. There were no practices for that.

Tribune: I should hope not since they're an improv group. I've got to say, this all sounds pretty tame. I've got a niece in New York City who participated in a flash mob where thousands of people got on a subway and took off their pants at the same time. Can we expect anything like that?

Fretwell: Our thing is dance, but I would totally encourage anyone else to start their own flash mob. It doesn't have to be as organized as we made it. People were thirty-somethings and moms who just wanted the thrill of public performance because they didn't do it before their midlife crisis.

Tribune: What does it say about Portland if our flash mobs are full of thirty-somethings? By the way, how old are you?

Fretwell: 32.

Tribune: Why did you wait until 32 to do this?

Fretwell: I don't think I had the confidence when I was 25.

Tribune: Really? What's the craziest thing you did in your 20s?

Fretwell: I got married at 21.

Tribune: And you had to wait until you were 32 to be brave enough to dance in public? What about other risky activities … skydiving?

Fretwell: Yep. I've done that.

Tribune: Which was harder for you, skydiving or flash mobbing?

Fretwell: Oh, dancing in public. I think there's a difference between doing adventurous stuff and doing public performance where people can judge or criticize you. To me, it's far less of a risk to jump out of an airplane.

Tribune: And how would your mother answer that question?

Fretwell: She would say skydiving is worse unless I ended up in jail for not paying Pioneer Square event fees.