Up With People brings message of hope, tolerance, community service


From the opening song, where cast members were dancing in the aisles, to the closing number, where this time it was the audience who was up on its feet, clapping and swaying along to the music, Up With People’s sold-out concert in the Canton High School auditorium proved to be an interactive and entertaining experience.

The cast of Up With People takes the stage in Morse Auditorium last Thursday. (Amy Nachbar photo)

Last Thursday night’s performance seamlessly transitioned back and forth from up-beat, easy-listening pop numbers to powerful ballads to mash-up medleys to amusing skits over the course of the two-hour show, which celebrates hope and diversity and promotes giving back to the local community.

More than 90 people from 17 different countries comprise the current cast of Up With People. With a slogan of “Travel with a purpose; perform for thousands; impact communities,” the group proved to practice what it preaches while in Canton last week.

Students from all over the globe have been traveling the world with Up With People since 1965, performing in musical shows and participating in various community service projects along the way. In Canton, the group spent last Tuesday and Wednesday helping out at the Massachusetts Hospital School on Randolph Street.

The Mass Hospital School provides “medical, habilitative, rehabilitative, recreational, educational and vocational services to children and young adults with multiple disabilities, assisting them to achieve their maximum level of independence in all aspects of life,” according to its website.

“I think it was really special, the work that [the cast members] did here at the Mass Hospital School, especially [considering] it’s not a really well-known facility and it’s not really well known what they do here and the fact that it’s so unique in the U.S. and even in the world,” said Naina Goulart, a 27-year-old promotion representative from Brazil.

Goulart said her time spent at MHS touched her heart, a sentiment the student cast members echoed. “It’s so eye-opening,” said Amanda Jernberg, a 20 year old from Sweden. “I would never get an opportunity at home to go to a school and work with these kids.”

“I think it had a great impact for me and I think for the kids too,” added Martin Dewald, a 20 year old from Slovakia.

In each city the cast members are placed with host families. While hailing from all over the world, the cast speaks English, but not all of the host families have, providing for an interesting experience. This semester’s trip started in Denver on July 9. The group then spent the month of August traveling in Arizona before touring Taiwan in September and then heading back to the States for a week here in Canton.

While in Taiwan, the group’s time was split between the more cosmopolitan city of Taipei and towns in the countryside.

“It was very interesting to live in the countryside where they don’t speak that high level of English, so you have to try to communicate in other ways, and try to tell them what you want with body language,” Jernberg said. “[It’s] fun to get to know a person without talking to them.”

It was a skill set that came in handy while at the Mass Hospital School, where some of the students are unable to speak. Dewald, for instance, facilitated communication with a female student there by helping her put a puzzle together. “[After] we made it, she was so happy,” Dewald recalled. “Just to see how happy she was — you can see it in their eyes.”

“Just to see them smiling at us and really appreciating that we were there, it was so touching,” Jernberg added.

After spending two days at MHS, the group spent last Thursday at Canton High, preparing for the show. Some of the cast went to different classrooms and interacted with the students, while others were setting up the souvenir stand, getting all the technical aspects of the show in place, or rehearsing.

Dewald, Goulart, and Jernberg sat in the CHS cafeteria before the start of last Thursday night’s show, sharing their experiences in Canton to date. When asked if they were enjoying the Boston area so far, the response was interesting — the weather was one of their favorite aspects. While the latter part of their stay in town featured classic autumn weather, the first few days were wet and raw, far from ideal conditions.

Goulart had been in Canton for the last month, laying the groundwork for the cast’s arrival. But after spending a month in the muggy climate of Taiwan, Dewald and Jernberg said they enjoyed spending time in less humid conditions, in a climate that reminded them of the weather back home in Europe. Overall, Dewald and Jernberg felt America was a more open society and more patriotic.

Some students and staff from MHS came to last Thursday’s performance, as did the area host families and a network of New England-area Up With People alumni. The alumni gathered for a special reception in the CHS cafeteria after the show, reminiscing about their past experiences touring the world.

“There is definitely a special connection that I don’t think we share with any other time in our lives,” Noelle Smith, a Cape Cod resident, said after the show.

Smith’s friend and fellow cast member Sheri Anderson, who grew up in Canton, traveled with the cast for parts of 1990 and 1991. Anderson saw the show the last time it came to Canton about 20 years ago (her mother Marge hosted cast members), was inspired by it, and knew she “had to do that,” so she quit her job and about a month and a half later joined the cast at the age of 22. Now Anderson, an Easton resident, is returning the favor, hosting two members of the cast this time around.

After the show, the cast spent Friday touring Boston, going on a duck boat tour and exploring the Freedom Trail, and spent Saturday with their host families. The cast left Sunday morning, en route to Maryland for the second leg of their East Coast tour. The group then travels to the Washington, D.C. area and Virginia before wrapping up the semester in December, after a month-long tour of Mexico.

“Every day there are so many experiences,” Dewald said. “At the beginning [of the trip] I was wondering … if [the excitement level] goes down after a time, but it’s still there.”

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