Today is August 23, ’08. It is Saturday and the cast and I have just finished our third, Up With People or in Spanish Viva La Gente show. We are still in La Paz, Mexico and it has been well over 100 degrees each day this week. I have been able to post many photos, but have been an unable to connect to the internet since then. In my last blog entry I had posted photographs from our outdoor set up in the La Paz Baseball Stadium. I have experienced a lot of excitement since then.
I spent all day Wednesday as a Community Impact Crew Leader, leading 50 UWP students and staff through a day of heat and satisfaction. The students and I painted the outside walls of the La Paz Baseball Stadium for the Ray Thompson Foundation. For many years this stadium has been a community symbol of family and recreation, but overtime it is fallen victim to years of graffiti vandalism. Fifty students and I set out to improve the walls of an old building, but ended up painting hope in the eyes of a community. As we worked, car after car drove by honking and yelling, "gracias" and "fantastico". My experiences on Wednesday taught me that a true leader allows room for error and facilitates a group in a way that allows them to lead themselves. A leader of a large group can never be everywhere at once so I discovered that my strength as a person had to be divided. I found great success when I appointed individuals as group leaders. I divided all 50 students into groups of 10 and became a leader of leaders. I was then much more relaxed and open minded because I was able to monitor progress through the eyes of five people instead of relying on myself to guide 50. In a short while my group of 50 was leading itself. I was then able to concentrate on instructions that were given to me by community leaders such as Mr. Dominguez, president of the Ray Thompson Foundation. A leader should take it upon himself to accomplish tasks that others would rather not do. He or she does not make him or herself a hero, but it is important to establish an image that does not place the leader above others. Students were happy to do the jobs I asks them to do because I had earned their respect. This element of leadership worked because I had given my strength to group leaders that relied on me for instructions. That night, I showered with a turtle(host family's pet) and realized that Mexico really is a place I love!
Thursday was a day of rehearsal. Viva La Gente split us up into group sessions. Dancers practice routines at a local dance studio and many students were placed in smaller community impact groups. As a member of the show band, I worked with Javi our drummer from Texas, Julie our bass player from Norway, Jochem keyboard player from the Netherlands, Phil alternative bass player from the USA and Michael Bowerman our music director. The six of us rehearsed the Mexican Medley. This arrangement of music is a 10 minute arrangement of popular Spanish songs from the late 80s early 90s and the present. Since the first time I saw this selection, I found it to be very difficult, even though the chord changes and melodies are very simple. Unlike our 50s Medley of American music, the Mexican Medley is of course made up of music that I have never heard before. Working on these Spanish songs was yet another indication to me that I am the kind of person that needs to listen to a song over and over again in order to remember the exact melody. I have never been able to simply look at a piece of paper and play notes as they are written, but my Viva La Gente experience has really expanded my ability to read charts and recognize written music. That evening many members of the cast and I were in downtown La Paz. In order to find out about the ways in which others view world differences of politics and culture, I am challenging myself to spend individual time with each member of the cast over the course of the next few months.
Each week we are given a least one day to learn about the city we are performing in. We call this day of local education a Regional Learning or RL day. Friday was our RL day in La Paz. The cast and I started the day by taking a bus tour around the city. Mexico is home to many old Catholic churches. Many of these places of worship are very famous and have stood for well over 100 years. After visiting many churches, our buses took us past a community sports complex. This area of recreation was very large and contained many indoor and outdoor fields. Outdoor fields included bike and skateboard ramps, soccer fields, basketball courts, running tracks and many food venders. The indoor facilities were even nicer. I saw a racquetball rooms, nice basketball courts and a large room with ping-pong tables, but the coolest thing about this facility was the fact that everything was free to the community every day. This facility was built as part of La Paz's efforts to keep young people occupied and away from drugs. After the bus tour we ate dinner on the beach. It was an incredible experience because everyone knew that our first performance in Mexico would be the next day.
Saturday was show day! and was also very hot!, very sandy!, very long! and very ROCK 'N ROLL!!! Our day started at 8:00 AM and ended at 1:30 AM. Every show day the cast is divided into three groups: promotions, exploration and set up. Promotion for the show takes place weeks before the cast even reaches a city. Promos run in monthly and weekly newspapers, play on the radio and are posted in storefronts, but on the day of a performance the Promotions Team will go to local malls and tourist attractions to hand out flyers and meet the public. Cast members who are placed on Exploration are given the opportunity to go in to the city and explore the local markets. The third Group of students is added to the stage setup crew. Since our dress rehearsal in Denver Colorado I have been on stage set up. Constructing our stage in Mexico becomes a mental and physical test of endurance. Since all but one of our shows in Mexico are held in baseball stadiums working set up for one of our shows is much like being in an ancient Egyptian slave. Working in the direct sun on top of sand with temperatures over 100 degrees can become a bit unrestful, but our setup in La Paz went well do to a steady breeze that blew throughout the day. A full cast run through was scheduled to be held at two o'clock, but it began to rain around one and show rehearsal was delayed three hours. I sensed our lack of practice in our performance that evening, yet twenty five hundred people roared with applause after each song.