Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Des Moines

February 25, 2008: Our first week-long city was over in the blink of an eye. It was such fun to stay with Kate and Andy Menschner, who just recently moved to Des Moines with their friendly bulldog, Penny Lane. (Katie is Ellen’s good friend from high school).

Our travel to Des Moines was treacherous – we saw literally hundreds of vehicles in the ditch of I-80, which was designated a no-tow zone because of the inches thick glazing of ice on the road. We also hit an extremely cold snap, where the highs were just around zero with bitter winds. We changed a cast ice-skating event at the last minute to an indoor rollerskating party instead, as the weather was too miserable to have people skate outdoors for 2 hours.

We were sponsored by Holmes Honda, the owner of which created a foundation called Kids Against Hunger of Des Moines. We worked alongside community volunteers all day on Tuesday packing meals. The cast scooped rice, soy, dried vegetables, and a vitamin packed bouillon tablet into a 400g plastic bag, then sealed them and packed them in boxes to be shipped to underdeveloped countries in turmoil, like Haiti and Zimbabue. Our goal was to pack 200,000 meals in one day. Success! We ended up packaging 251,640 meals, and a small group of students also did short UWP performances eight times throughout the day. It was fun to have Emily come and volunteer with us in the afternoon.

We performed the UWP Show for over 1,000 people at the Des Moines Civic Center. Thank you to the volleyball friends group for making the trek to see the performance. Scott was in the audience and said it was this cast’s strongest show yet on the road.

We also had our first significant regional learning day… we toured Pioneer Labs, which is a Du Pont company that engineers seeds. Some are genetically modified, others are cross-bred for higher yield or to effectively deter pests. It was fascinating to talk to their scientists, including Dwight, who holds the patent on the first gene particle gun, developed in the 1980s to literally shoot genes into a plant seed cell to experiment in plant genetic modification. This topic is fairly controversial, with strong differing opinions in various parts of the world, and the representatives of the company did a fantastic job of answering our tough questions.

Their take on genetic modification is this: The population of our earth is growing rapidly. To feed that population, either we can grow more food on the land we currently use, or we need to use more land to grow more food. Other modifications beides higher yield also can include putting small amounts of toxins in the seed that will kill root-eating or plant-infesting bugs when they eat the plant, but is much less chemical than using pesticides to spray the plants once they are grown. Farmers that use these modifications also need to plant a certain percentage of their fields without this chemical, so the bugs aren’t completely eliminated from that region. We visited labs full of petri dishes and test tubes of baby corn stalks, and the whole experience was fascinating.

We also heard from the president of the World Food Prize, which was created by a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to acknowledge significant achievements in agriculture in relation to human food supply.

Maquoketa (pronounced Macoconut)

Feb 18, 2008: Maquoketa, IA is a town of 6,000 people that is about 40 miles north of the Quad Cities Area. The town had an enormous fire a few weeks ago that destroyed six buildings on their historic main street. Part of our service was raising money for the strained fire department.

We also experienced our first serious winter storm, lots of freezing rain that turned to snow on our show day. We were afraid that we would have less people in our audience than we had onstage! But luckily, we had some dedicated host families and community members, and we still had over 300 people on a blizzardy Sunday afternoon. I was especially appreciative of my sisters Beth and Emily that made long drives from Minneapolis and Des Moines to come see the show. It was the first performance I participated in with this cast, and I had such a fun time onstage. Beth took some fabulous pics of the show with her zoom lens, and shared them with me, so I can share them with you!

Scott and I were hosted in Davenport, 40 miles south of Maquoketa, with Beth’s good friend from college, Elizabeth and her husband Tim. On our host family day they took us to Credit Island, which is a winter nesting site for bald eagles. We saw at least 15 eagles in the trees and soaring above the river, which I thought was spectacular. Apparently that’s not even average—that at certain times of day you can see more in the range of 50-70 eagles in that area.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Funny Lincoln Memories

February 12th, 2008: My roommate Sofie is from Sweden, and last night on our walk around the block with our host dad Bill and his black lab, Poudre, (pronounced: poo-durr… its Dutch), Sofie had to stop and take a photo of a fire hydrant. She thought it was so cool, as they don’t have them in Sweden.

My roommate Jessica is from Tucson, AZ, and has never spent any significant amount of time in cold weather. When we stopped just inside the front door to take off our coats, hats, mittens, and unbundle ourselves, she commented that it was just like when its cold in the movies! Cold for her is 50 degrees, so Nebraska in February has been quite an experience.

Today was our first day of doing our curriculum in schools called “Stand for Peace”, and I ate lunch next to a first grader named Eleanor. She was at a table alone, seemed very comfortable and talkative with grown-ups but not really included by her peers. We were having a nice chat; she told me how we had the same hair, and about her favorite TV show called Cyber- something, and how I can read more about it on, and out of the blue she says, “Will I ever see you again?” Just so matter of fact, and I am shocked to realize that the answer is very likely no. It really touched my heart, that here I was sitting with this little girl, and she could read that I was just passing through her life. I told her that I didn’t think so, as I was off to another school in the afternoon and leaving for Iowa on Thursday. She’d never been to Iowa, but did have cousins in Kearney (which I had driven through yesterday). She showed me how where to dump my trash, and bring my lunch tray and silverware, and as she walked away, she said in a very wise and charming little voice, “Well, its been nice chatting with you.”

Eleanor from Rousseau Elementary school is a very classy little lady, and I hope when I grow up, I can be a bit like her.

On the road again...

February 11, 2008: Its hard to believe we are starting a brand new tour already! Cast A 2008 is a fabulous group of people: 95 students from 26 countries, including Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Namibia and Nepal. The majority of Western Europe is represented, including a huge Swedish delegation (15 people, which is the largest after the US). We are a little over 1/3 US American. Our caravan has doubled in size- we have two buses, two minivans and two trucks. We added the second truck because we added a front lighting truss to the show, to light the extra people onstage.

We have a glamorous tour ahead of us—I posted it on the side… we are still getting our final US cities confirmed, so I will update it in a few weeks. Right now we are headed across cold, windy Nebraska, on our way to our first city on the road: Lincoln!

Denver show at the Buell

Last Saturday night, UWP made their debut performance at the prestigious Buell Theatre in downtown Denver. (For the Minnesotans, this is comparable to performing on the mainstage at the Ordway). We had a full house- over 2,000 seats filled, and the sponsorship of the show made it possible to donate all the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver. The grand total donated was $50,000.

The cast did a phenomenal job, putting together a new show in just over three weeks. Its similar to the show we traveled with last semester, but has some new songs and moments that are fun, and add to the continuity and message of the show, which is to “shine the light” on local organizations doing good in the community—like all the agencies we do volunteer work with, especially, in this case, Habitat.

One of the coolest things about performing at the Buell was being backstage. National and international touring companies have “wall rights”, to paint an artistic rendering of their show poster on a wall backstage. The cast then signs it. These painted show posters are all over the backstage hallways and wings, and include signatures of Julie Andrews (directing the Boyfriend), President Clinton (painted with the presidential seal), Bill Gates (painted on the Windows logo), and many shows like Rent, Wicked, Spamalot, & Riverdance. Because we are a touring company, we also got wall rights. One of our incredibly talented students from last semester, Yuri Yamaguchi from Japan, recreated our show poster on the wall, and we all signed it after the show Saturday night. So cool!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thank you Stones!

Well, with the end of staging comes the reality of having to say good bye to our wonderful friends (and world class host mom and dad) Julie and Jon Stone. We spent a wonderful five weeks at their home and were once again overwhelmed with their amazing hospitality and delicious food. We consider ourselves so fortunate to have tremendous friends and role models like the Stones and look forward to the next time our journeys align.

Picture of all of us at a Mammoth Lacrosse Game at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Jon and Julie just passed their first wedding anniversary in November. In a massive freezer cleaning in January, Julie came across the top to their wedding cake and defrosted it in their fridge. Overcome with sentimentality as usual, Julie choose to share the cake with friends as seen in the image below.
Note for the future...cake tends to dry out in the freezer. Be sure to drench it in chocolate liqueur and let it soak before trying to consume for best results.