Blogathon: #12 – Changes part 2

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Up With People announced it has ceased operations. The world thought Up With People to be dead, long gone. But in a few different parts of the world, something was being built up.

A few former staff members and alumi, and a group of devoted Japanese supporters, came together to bring Up With People back to life. There were petitions, plans, ideas, all sorts of hustle and bustle. In 2004, with a new CEO at the helm, the WorldSmart Leadership Program was born.

One aspect of Up With People that some don’t know about is its engagement with communities – not only did they perform; the casts also did various community service works and lived with local host families. However, due to the nature of the old programs’ schedules, this became difficult: students often came in one night, spent the next day on set-up and rehearsal, perform that night, and leave the next day – not leaving much time for much else. This was soon to change.

In the new program, more emphasis was placed on community engagement. Crews (no longer “casts” at this point) stayed in a city for a week. While in the city, they were put to work – more demanding community projects, regional learning, professional development (through internships and personal projects), university-level classes, and much more. This affected the performance aspect; instead of a big-budget show, it was a smaller affair, more abstract and containing various arts – song, dance, sing language, multimedia, acting, speech.

This was very controversial amongst the alumni. Many felt that the current UWP administration didn’t want anything to do with the alumni, so the alumni didn’t want anything to with the new UWP. They were unhappy that the show has been cut down; they felt it was taking away their history. That they were not proud of the Up With People name and tried to get rid of it as much as they can.

(I actually first heard of UWP and WorldSmart around October 2004, when the first WorldSmart crew was travelling. The UWP name wasn’t hidden, and its history was easy to find – however, it did get a bit confusing to read about a “new” program and then reading testimonials dating back from the 60s and 70s.)

The alumni backlash was felt by the WorldSmart crew. Many felt that the alumi didn’t want anything to do with them;there have been alumni who have said that they were unhappy with the WorldSmart era. While the alumni were upset over the apparent decrease n the show’s status, the current students were surprised when told that the had to learn songs and dances for a show – “we didn’t sign up for this!”. It was quite a trying time for all involved, as UWP tried to get the alumni confidence back while not alienating their current students.

In August 2005, as the 3rd WorldSmart crew made its way to Denver, a new CEO stepped in. And more changes were to come.

Part 3 to be posted soon.

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One Response

  1. “students often came in one night, spent the next day on set-up and rehearsal, perform that night, and leave the next day – not leaving much time for much else.”

    Not exactly true. When I was on tour, we spent a lot of time (albeit not a week) digging ditches, helping build schools, at rest homes and nursing homes, hospitals, orphanages, schools for the blind and mentally and physically handicapped, prisons (I saw a lot of prisons), animals shelters (I still carry a scar), and so much more. Every moment was jammed packed, for sure, but there was still a lot of community involvement outside of the “show”.

    This is fascinating stuff, and I’m thrilled to see the changes. I look forward to the next part!

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