Up with People
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|Type||Educational, cultural, civic|
|Headquarters||Denver, Colorado, United States|
Up with People (UWP) is an educational organization whose mission is to inspire young people to make a difference in their world. UWP works to break down cultural barriers and create global understanding through volunteer service and a musical show. The UWP current headquarters is in Denver, Colorado, United States, with satellite offices in Belgium and Mexico.
The roots of Up with People can be found in the Sing Out shows of Moral Re-Armament (MRA) in the mid-1960s. Previously, throughout its existence, MRA had staged dramatic performances with music to put forth its message which consisted of its four tenets of "love, honesty, purity and unselfishness." With the Sing Out shows, the dramatic elements were removed. Later, Up with People was separated from MRA under the leadership of J. Blanton Belk in 1968.
In 1976, Up with People began to make frequent appearances at the Super Bowl; the group performed in five Super Bowl halftime shows between 1976 and 1986 (with Grambling State University Marching Band being the only other group having that many returns to the Super Bowl half time show with its 6 appearances), and performed at the pre-game show of Super Bowl XXV in 1991. By the 1990s, the style of halftime performance they helped define during the 1970s and 1980s (which centered on themed, musical-style spectacles which aimed to "fill the field") were frequently lambasted as the worst halftime shows ever by critics for being too dated and not in touch with modern popular culture, leading organizers to shift towards popular musicians for future halftime shows.
Among the notable alumni and alumnae of the Up With People cast is actress Glenn Close, who was a featured vocalist during the 1960s, singing lead and appearing on the picture sleeve of the Up With People single "The World is Your Hometown." Close had few positive memories of her time in either Moral Re-Armament or Up with People, describing MRA as a "cult."
Each group, called a cast, after training in Denver, travels to nearly 20 communities across two or three continents, per semester, spending about one week in each community. Each week, they live with a local host family, participate in service projects, learn about different cultures through educational workshops, and perform in Up with People’s musical stage production. Programs begin in January or July of each year.
Criticism: Smile 'Til It Hurts: The Up with People Story
The documentary film Smile 'Til It Hurts: The Up with People Story premiered at the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival. It is an unofficial documentary history of the organization. The film was directed by Lee Storey who is married to early alumnus William Storey.
The film documents the troupe's history from its origins in the late 1950s within Moral Re-Armament and the Sing-Out groups, through its successful years of the 1980s and subsequent decline.
The film states that the troupe, funded by corporate entities including Halliburton, General Motors, Exxon, and Searle, was intended to counter the hippie subculture. The film also claims that the musical group emphasized extreme right wing politics, and alleges that troupe rules included aspects of a religious cult, including arranged marriages.
Reviews have noted that, while a critique of the organization, the film has also shown respect for those who were involved and demonstrated their good intentions.
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- Storey, Lee. Smile 'Til It Hurts: The Up with People Story. Storey Vision Productions, 2009.
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