By Jody Tait
BYU performing groups have been looking forward all year to their international spring tours. Unfortunately, this year it looks like they”ll be staying home.
“Out of concern for world travel conditions, BYU has made the decision not to send the University”s performing groups on any international tours during the summer of 2003,” said Carri Jenkins, assistant to the president for university communications. “This is something that has been discussed as world conditions have developed over the last several weeks.”
Jenkins said the decision was made by BYU administrators and then approved by the Board of Trustees.
Seven BYU performing groups were affected by the decision, including the Living Legends, University Singers, Dancers” Company, Young Ambassadors, Wind Symphony, Ballroom Dance Company and International Folk Dance Ensemble.
The effects of the tour”s cancellations are far reaching among cast, crew and directors.
Shawn Hawkins and Alexandra Beach said they were looking forward to their stays in Tahiti and France, respectively, as an opportunity to discover new cultures and connect with fellow French speakers
Luken Grace and Kathryn Smith were going to use the Living Legends” South Africa tour as their honeymoon.
Randy Boothe, director of the Young Ambassadors, received word of the cancellations as technicians were doing the final packing of the props and equipment for air-freight to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
“It”s heart wrenching because we”ve spent so many hours preparing the shows and getting everything ready by attending culture classes, learning the language and writing and translating scripts,” Boothe said.
Jenkins said the cancellations were not made exclusively because of the war with Iraq, although the war was a factor in the process.
“Given the world conditions right now, and what is happening with the war in Iraq, certainly this has been something that has been discussed. There is a lot of thought that has taken place here.” Jenkins said.
Linda Wakefield, co-director of the Ballroom Dance Company said the war seems to be directly impacting the team”s tour to Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti.
“Last night, I was watching the news, and they were having all sorts of riots – anti-American riots – in Australia and New Zealand in the tour cities we were going to travel to,” Wakefield said.
She described the safety issue as a “double-edged sword,” explaining that some students were so disappointed they couldn”t attend their regular dance classes.
“They were shocked. A lot of them said things like, ”I just had this feeling in my heart that we weren”t going to be going,”” Wakefield said.
Jenkins expressed sympathy. “I think the University understands their disappointment,” she said. “However, their safety is of utmost concern to us.”
But students did express confidence in the decision of BYU and the Board of Trustees, of which the First Presidency is a part.
“What”s frustrating for me is all the work that”s gone into it, as well as all the planning and anticipation,” said Hawkins, a dance instructor and member of BYU”s Ballroom Dance Company. “The fact that it”s far from the war doesn”t mean a lot to me since the world seems so small now.”
Boothe emphasized the church connection, describing performers as “representatives of the Church,” and said that previous tours have been appropriately fearless.
“I”ve been teaching and directing here for 25 years and we”ve had basically 23 years of no concerns, no fears – just get on the plane and go wherever we”re it is that we”re supposed to go.”
He said although the groups will be unable to go abroad this year, it”s a small sacrifice in comparison with the good they”ve done.
“We”ve had marvelous bridge building experiences all over the world,” Boothe said. “The last two or three years, things have kind of been unsettled, and I certainly understand President Hinckley”s concern for the safety and the well-being of the students and faculty.”
The First Presidency”s involvement in the decision also seemed to be a major comfort for faculty and students.
“We can find comfort in knowing that the prophet endorsed it,” Wakefield said. “We just have to know it was for our own good.”
“A guy in our group made the comment, ”This is just like an opportunity for us to show our faith,”” said Beach, a member of the International Folk Dance Ensemble.
Wakefield said the work of management, as well as students and directors, has been lost, specifically mentioning Rex Barrington, assistant director of BYU”s Performing Arts Management office.
“He has the gruesome responsibility of contacting hotels, planes airlines, dignitaries, venues already booked and paid for,” Wakefield said. “He”s worked a year and a half on these tours.”
It seems unlikely that the tours can be rescheduled domestically, Wakefield said. The post-Sept. 11 cancellations last year left tour organizers with enough time to reschedule venues in the United States. But this year, Wakefield said the tours were not left with enough time to reschedule.
“We saturated America last summer with all of our groups,” Wakefield said. “Now we find that we have a situation with time. We were scheduled to leave in about a month.”
Hawkins said even if the tours were rebooked in America, the experience wouldn”t be the same.
“There”s a lot of work, time, and effort that goes on behind the scenes to plan a trip like this,” he said. “You can”t just throw together the same kind of trip somewhere stateside in just a month. It”s sad that we”re living in a world where they have to cancel things of this nature.”
Wakefield agreed. “This war is sad, we just want it to be over and get on with life,” she said.
But for others, even this disappointment leads to other opportunities.
“It”s a free month that I have now,” Beach said. “I can go on vacation. I want to go on a cruise or do something with the people on my team.”
For John Shurtleff, technical director of both the Young Ambassadors and Living Legends, this year could be the first since 1985 that he hasn”t spent time on tour with the groups.
“My family”s ecstatic,” Shurtleff said. “I might be home for Mother”s Day for once.”