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Walking On

@U2 Staffers Tell What It's Like To Walk On U2's Stage

@U2, October 06, 2009
By: Tassoula Kokkoris and Sherry Lawrence

 

One of the most emotional parts of the U2 360 tour is the unity for the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma (Myanmar) who has been held under house arrest by the military junta.  For the song "Walk On," fans selected from the audience walk on to the stage holding an image of Suu Kyi's face in front of their own faces. Some of these fans are volunteers with the ONE Campaign and Amnesty International, and some are lucky ones who were randomly selected from the audience.

We were among the lucky in Raleigh.

Everyone is lined up a few songs prior in a special area behind the stage and handed the Aung San Suu Kyi masks on a long stick. Tour personnel separate the volunteers into two lines and instruct everyone to watch the person directly in front of them while going onto the stage. They're told to hold onto the stick with both hands, and to watch the person in back of them when it is time to exit the stage. This allows for people to enter/exit from both sides of the stage, which makes for a more powerful presentation. Tour personnel are at the start and the end of the lines to lead the volunteers. Before the walkers depart, tour security checks all volunteers to make sure everyone has the correct wristband on to participate in this part of the show.

When the lines begin to move, it is a bit difficult to see where to go or what to do as the mask is in front of your face. A million different things go through your mind: don't trip and fall; is the mask being held the way they want it to be?; the lights are really bright; the stage is vibrating; at what point do we stop?; how are we supposed to act -- stoic? lifeless?; don't smile -- we wouldn't be here if Suu Kyi wasn't being imprisoned against her will; who was I supposed to watch when it's time to leave the stage again?; oh crap, I went the wrong way on stage; it's really dark now -- where are those stairs again?; I hope I didn't upstage Bono by walking the wrong way at the end; no one is going to believe this happened -- I hope there are photos; etc.

Aside from the mechanics, if you take a moment to breathe (no pun intended), walking on can be a very spiritual experience. Once you stop and face the audience, through two tiny holes you get to see and feel what U2 sees each night on stage: the happy faces, the crying fans, the cameras flashing, the emotional reactions to the music. It helps that beneath you are the booming vibrations of the instruments and behind you are all four band members doing what they do best. It feels like an odd partnership in choreography, but one that strangely makes sense.

For those who participate in this part of the show, it is an honor to be entrusted with such an important dramatic element in the night. Those masked faces represent every walk of life, and it underscores the importance of why U2 has created this as part of its show. This act shows that everyday common people from every corner of the world can make a difference in creating positive change in the fight for human rights. While the show puts a white hot spotlight on Suu Kyi, there are thousands of others out there who are prisoners of conscious. Amnesty International and the ONE Campaign are out there fighting on their behalf. After the lights fade from "Walk On," the volunteers' work still is not done. U2 want fans to get involved, sign petitions, send letters, contact their political leaders, and fight on behalf of those who cannot. It's one thing to stand on a stage in a stadium and represent someone like Suu Kyi, but it's another to take a stand on the world's stage. U2's stage is one small step, and hopefully a bigger stage is the next one.  A life can be changed through this small act of participating as a volunteer in the show, and for that, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

© @U2/Kokkoris/Lawrence, 2009.

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