Sunday, January 27, 2008

Staging is in full swing!

Wow...sorry for the lack of posts. We have been having an amazing (if not incredibly busy time) here in Denver with our students now in town. Our new group is truly fantastic with a rich diversity of backgrounds, ages, and countries. Some information that might be interesting:
  • We have 95 students and 16 staff members in Cast A 2008
  • We come from 26 countries including Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Namibia and many western nations
  • Our students are doctors, teachers, college students, non-profit workers and wayward souls looking for inspiration about what to do next
Both Ellen and I are doing slightly different jobs than we did last semester. This is a great challenge for us as we are learning new skills and techniques, but with this learning comes long hours and red eyes from looking at a computer. Ellen is now the Education Manager and Scott is the full-time Assistant Cast Manager. We are working with an amazing group of people who have a wealth of experience and are just plain fun to be around. I consider myself very lucky to be doing the things that I love and to work with people I enjoy, while knowing that I am making a difference in the world.

Now, more than ever, the world is in need of leaders who know how to work with others and are committed to making a difference in their communities. That is what we hope to build over the next 6 months as we travel. It is a great challenge, but so rewarding and the best thing that we could be doing with our time right now.

We hope that you enjoy following us as this new journey unfolds.

When we are not working we love to hang out with our wonderful host family, the Stones. We love to cook good food, sit and talk over a glass of wine and of course, watch motocross ;-) Here is our hostdad Jon getting his mullet trimmed up. What a sexy beast!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Rose Parade!

(Link to our performance)

On December 26th, alumni of Casts B & C 2007, along with Up with People support staff, descended on Pasadena, CA, to rehearse the opening of the Tournament of Roses Parade. As Scottie and I drove 17 hours across Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California, we lamented giving up our last week of vacation. But it was the last time regret crossed our minds… to be a part of the Rose Parade performance was incredibly fun!

We rehearsed our three minute performance for four solid days. There was “downtime”, during which we chomped down granola bars and clementines, were assigned international costumes, chatted with the boy and girl scouts that performed with us, and waited to be told where to stand.
But most of the time, we danced. I can’t remember the last time I was so sore! The song that was rewritten for our performance, “World Celebration”, was a remake of “Festa Humana”, the opening song in the Up with People show we traveled with 10 years ago. So the basics of the dance came back quickly, but with a TV audience of 300 million, it had to be as perfect as it could be. We had an UWP cast of 70, and then added to that 100 Boy & Girl Scouts carrying flags of the US and around the world, professional Japanese Teikyo drummers, an African rhythm percussionist from Trinidad & Tobago, and the drumline and part of the brass section from Missouri State University. It was at least 250 performers, and many pieces to put together.

Our first three days we rehearsed at the fairgrounds, primarily indoors. The third day in the late afternoon was the first time outdoors, adding in the marching band and our pyro guys, who needed to practice the fireworks once for the Pasadena Fire Marshall. Our pyrotechnics crew were true professionals—they do the fireworks each week for the WWE.

New Years Eve day we went in the morning to one of many float barns that are located throughout Pasadena. We got to see three floats up close, that had just received their finishing touches, and rehearsed our whole production (minus the pyro) on and in front of the opening float of the parade, so we could space everything out the way it would be on the big day.

We also had to practice our 45 second strike, during which we had to wheel away three large steel platforms (for each set of drums), take down all the speakers and sound cable, and help the float riders into place so the parade could begin. Every person had a task--- I ran around the end of the drumline to the Teikyo drum platform, unclasped the front wheel and joined the six person team pushing it up the street and out of the way.

New years eve afternoon we were instructed to go nap, as we’d be reporting for duty around 9:00pm and would be up until at least 11am New Years Day. That night, we had a complicated series of parking passes and security badges to get us into the secured area of the grandstands, and we hung out most of the evening in a high school cafeteria. We watched the ball drop, and then took quick cat naps, before our rehearsal for the TV cameras. That final rehearsal was on the street in front of the grandstand from 3:00am-5:00am. The director and cameramen practiced their positions for the planned 56 camera shots for the 3 minute performance (which the director needed to call live at 8:01:30, our official start time.)

We went back to the high school for hair, makeup, and to take off the sweats we had under our costumes for the 3am run throughs. Then we walked back up through the security checkpoints, which were now swarming with people headed to the grandstand. We were in place a little after 7am, and walked out behind the float at 7:45am. We warmed up the crowd with a performance of Up with People (which we learned, also tricks people into getting into their seats, because they think the parade is starting).

And finally, our big moment! It was so exhilarating and so fast! Scott & I were both in American costumes, and he’s visible briefly a few times in the televised broadcast (I am usually just off camera… just my luck!) We had a really fun part—in the last 30 seconds we two-stepped to the center, and did a series of hoe-down style kicks & turns, for the final pose. Unfortunately the TV director missed only two shots in calling the live feed—and our feature segment was one of them. But the 10,000 people in the grandstand got a great view of my red bloomers!

We struck the set within our 45 second requirement, and were able, with our all-access passes, to stand on the street and watch the parade go by: 46 floats, 23 marching bands and 19 equestrian units, over 18 million flowers including 1.5 million roses. Each float uses more flowers than the average florist goes through in FIVE YEARS. I chose to appreciate it as art, so I wouldn’t be as grossed out by the extravagance. And art it truly was… each float was gorgeous and striking.

And then we were done! The week felt like a blur, and we were back on the road on January 2nd—17 hours back to Denver, to start staging for a new Up with People cast. It was a New Years I will not soon forget.