It’s been almost 20 years since the international sensation Up With People has performed on Canadian soil. That all changed last night as a cast of 100 youth from all over the world brought down the house at the Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe in Ottawa.
Here in Canada we are in the midst of a heated, often negative, federal election. Everything is on the table from a woman’s right to chose, aboriginal rights, the environment, immigration, LGBTQ+ and so many more issues that, honestly in 2019, shouldn’t be issues at all. Up With People’s mission is simple: Through music and action, we empower young people to be positive agents of change for a more hopeful, trusting and peaceful world.
For the second time in a month YOUTH are spreading a message. First it was Greta Thunberg with her powerful message about the environment and now Up With People has taken up the chorus.
Young adults from all over the world travel abroad with Up with People for one or two semesters, beginning in January or July of each year. Each international tour embarks with nearly 100 participants, ages 17 – 29, from more than 15 countries. Each group travels to nearly 20 communities across a minimum of two continents each semester, typically spending one week in each city. Cast members live with a local host family, volunteer 8 – 12 hours in service projects, participate in 4 – 6 hours of educational workshops, and perform in Up with People’s two-hour professionally produced musical production. Up with People also offers students the ability to earn academic credit during their travels.
It’s been about 30 years since I was first introduced to Up With People and 25 years since I last saw them perform. I think my biggest take away, seeing them as an adult, was how has so little changed in 30 years? Why do we still need to talk about acceptance? Why do we still need to talk about how the colour of a person’s skin doesn’t make them less human than you or I? Why is war still ripping people and families apart?
The 2 hour Up With People production is filled with dance, song, laughter and tears. There are moments that make you want to dance, moments that make you clap and moments that really make you think. “Does it really matter? What does the colour of the skin have to do with the person within? Rich or Poor there’s a destiny in store we will share forever more no one excluded. And when a hungry baby cries can you tell me what colour are the tears in his eyes?”
Last night was “World Mental Health Day” so, fittingly, the cast shone a light on mental health with a dramatically spoken segment where several characters described themselves as the person you see and the person you don’t see. One of the characters for example said “What you see is…. a good friend, theatrical, spontaneous, proud of my country. What you don’t see is… lack of self-control, childhood trauma, fear of not being accepted, constant insecurity.” 1 in 4 boys are bullied in school, but less than 30% notify adults. 24% of kids who are bullied seek psychiatric help by age 30. 1in 5 of US lives with a mental illness. Mental illness is largely unreported because of social stigma.
Even Gord Downie got a shout out as the cast paid respect to one of Canada’s greatest musical, and humanitarian, minds with a performance of The Tragically Hip’s “Ahead By A Century” during their customary “party around the world” which featured popular music from some of the regions represented in the cast.
The work Up With People does and the message they bring with them is still needed in this world. Until hatred, discrimination, racism and war are replaced with peace the world needs to hear the voices of our youth…I was once one of these youth who were inspired by a group of my own peers. Now it’s time for a new generation to be inspired.
In their own words “There are people out there who do more than their share. They reach out a hand, lift up their fellow man. Let the world see their fight, they’re turnin’ wrong into right. Let’s all take a cue from the unselfish work that they do and then let’s shine the light. It’s not impossible to change this world just start with you and me every man woman boy and girl” excerpt from “Shine The Light” (https://open.spotify.com/track/0zK1OBoSkdEhIj9BlolRRz?si=K-xBQCc2Qiyc-1yF_UI9Pw)
“If we wanna be the change, gotta do more than just say it. Believe why we stand is how every revolution began: With a spark of truth, and the power of youth Every movement started with somebody saying “take a stand!” It begins with us…” excerpt from “Begins With Us” (https://open.spotify.com/track/1PtMcgHinYctTnIBXle29D?si=iwhjHoepTNitUo–n9aqzA)
Up With People returns to Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe for one more show tonight starting at 7pm for more information, and tickets, visit https://upwithpeople.org/event/live-on-tour-2019-in-ottawa-ontario/. Honestly if you don’t have any plans tonight go and see Up With People. It’s not very often that they come to Ottawa, they’re promising to return to Canada annually but it could be years before they return to our capital. This show will tap every one of your emotions but most of all it will leave you inspired.
We’re working with Up With People on some 2020 dates coming to Alberta and Saskatchewan this spring, stay tuned! For more information on Up With People, it’s programs, how to join or just to see when they’re coming to your neck of the woods visit www.upwithpeople.ca. Special thanks to Armando, Chelsey and the entire cast and crew of Up With People, safe travels as you leave Canada for your next port of call in Italy next week!