A year ago, Marie Durbern said she was so shy that she found it impossible to speak in a public setting.

Then she became involved with the international educational and performance organization Up with People and now spends the majority of her time talking to people and promoting its worldwide shows.

"I would have nightmares about talking to people," said Durbern, a native of Belgium. "Now there are people I talk to and reach out to all over the world. The staff really helps you. If you have a goal, you can do it."

Working with Up with People, which was founded in 1965 in Denver, had been a dream of Durbern's since she was 17 and first saw an ensemble perform in Belgium. She could identify with the group, which was composed of a multinational cast of young people ages 17 to 29 who performed a combination of songs and dances, many of them native to their countries, designed to inspire and motivate the audiences who came to see them.

Durbern was in Salina, along with fellow Up with People promoters Jerico Olivia from Argentina and Danielle Burr from the U.S. (specifically Georgia), seeking host families to house about 100 Up with People performers from 20 countries who will be in Salina beginning Monday through Sept. 24.

"We've tried pretty much every place in the city, including service organizations and churches, and we've had a great response," Olivia said. "People are so welcoming in Salina."

Up with People will perform their touring show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Mabee Arena on the campus of Kansas Wesleyan University. The show is being sponsored by the university and Sacred Heart High School, with the support of Saint Francis Community Services, Sunflower Bank, UMB Bank, Blue Beacon and Crown Distributors.

The production, entitled "Up with People Live on Tour 2018," is a high energy, upbeat, family-friendly show that is a dynamic blend of featured soloists, full cast production numbers, complex choreography and colorful costumes, Olivia said.

"There's a misconception that it's just a choir singing," she said. "There's so much dancing context, plus video and lighting. It's a big production."

Burr said she was attracted to work with Up with People not only to be a performer and help publicize the shows, but because of the organization's message of empowering young people to be positive agents of change in their communities and in the world, breaking down cultural barriers and creating global understanding through volunteer service.

"You don't have to be professional singers or dancers," she said. "It starts with building up a team and building a show. There's a live band and everything is very choreographed. It's very close to a musical production."

Although Up with People was founded in 1965, they achieved international recognition with their frequent appearances at the Super Bowl — the group performed in four halftime shows between 1976 and 1986. Cast members also have performed at the 2007 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and during the opening celebration of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade in 2008 and 2011.

The current production is designed to "share our vision of a more hopeful, trusting and peaceful world," said Up with People senior vice-president Eric Lentz.

"The show features entertaining pop medleys, international dances and original UWP songs that will inspire people to make a positive difference in their communities," he said.

Durbern said she could sense that message of hope and positive change even as a teenager watching an Up with People show for the first time.

"I went to the show because my mom wanted me to see it," she said. "Then I fell in love with it. The energy coming from the performers was so powerful and amazing, and I wanted to be part of it."