Before American Idol or High School Musical, the international cast of Up With People cast was on the road, entertaining millions around the world.
The 100-member cast is in the valley for two performances. You already missed one; it was last night. You have one more shot. Tonight’s performance begins at 7 p.m.
In the “Us vs. Them” mindset that often pervades modern life, Up With People reminds us that we are all “Us.”
Valley native Bailey Garton was out for a year with Up With People and says she learned “a whole lot of everything.”
She was barely out of high school when she toured eight countries on three continents, built homes with Habitat for Humanity, worked in the slums in the Philippines, painted murals in Mexican preschool and health centers, led dance workshops for both naturals and the rhythmically impaired. She stayed in a monastery for two weeks in Taiwan.
“They didn’t speak English and I had no idea what I was eating, but it was two of the best weeks of my life,” Garton said.
She’s performing with Up With People this week. She still knows the show and they want to showcase some local talent. Plus, they want to show that it’s good for just about everyone.
“I had just graduated high school and was out for a year,” Garton said. “It’s important to see someone you know performing in something like that. It helps people understand that they can do it, too.”
She still gets a healthy amount of butterflies when she performs. She has all kinds of stories about things that have happened. some great, some not so not so great. However, the show always goes on.
“That’s an important life lesson for everyone to learn,” Garton said.
Kim Nottingham’s family always hosted cast members when she was a kid and the local Rotary Club brought Up With People to the Valley. When she got old enough, she did an Up With People tour. That was 1982 and she made some of her best friend for life. Her cast had a kid from Russia, and in 1982 that was unusual.
“We were always a host family and meeting the kids coming from all over the world,” she said. “When I was old enough, I wanted to do it. I was in it for the cultural experience.”
She spent months in Mexico, which was a lesson in perspective and being grateful for what you have.
“People would literally give you the shirt off their back. If you complimented them on their shirt, sometimes they’d wash it and present it to when you were ready to leave,”
This week Kim is hosting kids from Norway and Vietnam. One family has four guys: one each from Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and Georgia — the state, not the country and former Soviet satellite. One family is hosting nine young women.
Up with People is one year younger than the Beatles. It was founded by J. Blanton Belk in 1965 as a positive voice for young people during a turbulent period in the United States.
They sing, they dance, they exude so much positive energy that they make The Little Engine That Could seem like a total drudge.
But more than that, in every town they visit they spend most of their time as semi-professional do-gooders. In the Vail Valley this week, the 100-member cast combined for thousands of hours visiting with senior citizens and teaching performing workshops to school kids — and just about anything else that needed to be done.
When they leave here they go to Scotts Bluff, Neb., where they’ll work with the Connection Homeless Shelter, among other things.
“In every city that we go to we have different sponsors and those are the people who bring us to the communities,” said Up With People advanced team member, Giselle Kuri, who’s already in Scotts Bluff.
Then, after they’ve worked all day, they rehearse.
The production is called “Voices,” and features 100 cast members from 20 countries, including Bailey Garton, a local talent who spent a year touring with Up With People. She’s taking the stage one more time during this weekend’s performances at Eagle Valley High School.
“Voices is themed around the power and the irony of communication in today’s global climate,” said Eric Lentz, Up with People producer/director. “From the freedom and connection given to the disenfranchised by social media, to the prospect of an electronic smile replacing a real one; and emerging through it all: the voices of a generation committed to justice and human dignity. By the end of the show, audiences will feel empowered to connect, communicate, and create positive change in their communities. They will have a new perspective on humankind, and will be inspired to ‘ ... rise above the noises, and listen to the voices of the world.’”
They sing stuff you remember, but better than you remember. The show features medleys of popular music representing “voices” of the radio, video and digital generations, as well as a medley of international music from Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa.
In addition to Vail Valley, their tour will stop in 20 U.S. cities, Mexico, and Europe.
Up With People has played four Super Bowl halftime shows, the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the opening celebration of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses’ Rose Parade in 2008 and 2011, and in St. Peters Square for the Pope in December of 1013.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.