By Jenny Lyons
“Yes we can to justice and equality. Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity. Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world. Yes we can.”
These uplifting words, canonized in 2008 by Barack Obama, are the centerpiece of James Logan’s stirring 2017 program, “HOPE”. The shows that we remember most are the ones that move us, the ones that speak to our experiences, and the ones that cause us to take pause and think. In a year not short on turmoil and uncertainty in current affairs, in a year of division and taking sides, “HOPE” is no exception. While undeniably relevant and timely, Logan takes what could have been a politically charged statement piece and turns it on its head. It strips away the politics, the strife, and the negativity, and zeroes in on unity.
The message is simple, says director Mark Metzger, “It’s your basic premise of let’s come together to do better things.”
Metzger, who emphasizes that “HOPE” is not a political show, heard the piece in November. The track features a star-studded cast of celebrities and musicians singing and speaking along with with Barack Obama’s original “Yes We Can” speech. The song is a fresh and hip take on the iconic speech and was created by Will.I.Am a few years ago. “As I really listened to the soundtrack, I realized it has nothing to do with politics,” Metzger says, “It’s basically a history lesson and an inspirational, motivational speech.” For his diverse cast of students, the song was a natural choice with which he felt everyone could easily relate.
Bolstering their strong song choice is the other centerpiece of this program: a collection of large white blocks that masterfully set the stage throughout the program. Metzger emphasizes that the blocks take on different meanings as the show progresses. Sometimes representing soapboxes, the stage on which to take stand, and perhaps even obstacles to overcome, the blocks highlight performers and create different levels and textures to great effect.
If there was any doubt about what this show is truly about, those who watched from the high seats in the arena witnessed a less than subtle nod to the show’s namesake, when the blocks strikingly spell the word, “hope” to accentuate this booming quote, “In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.” It is a poignant moment that emotionally charges the the subsequent peak of the show.
Said culmination of the program comes in the form of a rousing dance feature, a WGI moment that is sure to be remembered for a long while yet. With the blocks spread in an expansive grid, every performer triumphantly ascends their own box, shouting, “Yes, we can!” along with the soundtrack. The feature is soaring: it features the entire cast climbing, dropping onto, lifting, and spinning their soapboxes and is executed with impressive technical prowess and an infectious vitality. Watching nearly thirty young people wholeheartedly and passionately performing this piece is nothing short of inspiring. It is clear that these students feel empowered by what they are performing, and it effectively fills the audience with hope, too. This electric moment filled the arena all three nights at the UD Arena. It is an intellectually appealing feat that is not lost on the audience.
On the crowd’s response to “HOPE,” Metzger says, “It’s not always an overwhelming response, but it’s a very thoughtful response.” He notes that the show moves quickly and the track is dense and fast-spoken. With the pacing of the show being as upbeat as it is, there is little reaction time for the audience. However, he says, “Hopefully you get to stop and think about it after it’s done.”
There is little doubt that audiences are left thoughtful in the wake of witnessing James Logan’s program. In a year where the trend swayed towards more staid and somber shows, Logan’s “HOPE” stands out from the crowd with its bright colors, bold song choice, and uplifting message.
Again emphasizing that “HOPE” is universal and not political, Metzger further explains the motivation behind the design: “In trying to make your own choices and have your own stand and have your own opinion, you have to do the research behind it and figure out why you want something to happen and how to make something happen.” He adds, “And it’s always better to work together than to work as one.”
In a show that so clearly touts coming together to do great things, James Logan 2017 did just that. They brought unity, history, empowerment, and most of all “HOPE” to the arena this year and WGI will not soon forget it.
About the Author: Jenny Lyons is a freelance writer and graduate of the Literary Journalism program at the University of California, Irvine. She is particularly enamored with nonfiction writing, archival research and reporting, as well as editing. She is a recent alumna of WGI, having performed with the Santa Clara Vanguard Winter Guard from 2013 to 2015. Jenny has also marched with several drum corps including Pacific Crest, The Academy, and the Santa Clara Vanguard. When she is not writing, Jenny can be found continuing her passion for color guard through teaching.