Friday, 10 August 2012

My Journey To The Olympic Opening Ceremony

Just under a year ago, a simple email from my university alerted my phone of the prospect of featuring in the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Did I think twice? No! I realised that this was a once in a life time opportunity that I should try and take up and possibly the closest thing I will get to being involved in my home Olympics.
It all started off with a simple online form followed by an email confirming my application being accepted and an audition time and date given. When my audition date arrived I headed to 3 Mills Studios in Bromley-By-Bow and I was nervous. I had never auditioned before in my life and was sure I would be the person with the least experience there. I also didn’t think I would be hear if it wasn’t for taking part in the stammer course which played a huge role in giving me the confidence to go for the auditions

In fact the audition process was brilliant! I had a fantastic day meeting such enthusiastic people who were just as nervous and shocked to be there as I was. We were inspired by videos of previous ceremonies and regaled tales of people’s memories of previous ceremonies. The range of people was so diverse it was inspiring. People of all ages and walks of life were taking a shot to be involved in the biggest show London would ever put on.  We ran around in a giant game of battleship, danced to Beyonce (it was a sign!!) and acted our way through a scene involving vigorous teeth brushing and Oyster Card swiping. This was also the day I met Danny Boyle as he watched on over everybody auditioning for the once in a life time role.. One if his films, Slumdog Millionaire is my all time favourite so to meet him is such an honour and what a nice guy he is too. The way he also speaks and gets his words out shows instantly as to why he was given the role to direct the opening ceremony and why he has been successful in being a director.

The next day I received an email saying I had been successful and was invited to attend a role specific audition. Surely this wasn’t real? I was so excited! And curious as to what the role may be. The role specific audition was to feature in an acting role in the opening ceremony and for one I was happy as dancing wasn’t one of my best attributes and happy I got to audition for the acting role rather than the dancing role.

We then had a nervous 8 week wait to know whether we were in or not. I had a couple of friend who had also auditioned and whenever an email was sent, they would receive it before me and was a good few days before I received mine. I always took this as a sign of not being ‘in’.

On the 16th January around 1.30PM I received the email. ‘Congratulations! London 2012 Ceremonies are pleased to inform you that you have been successful in your audition to become a Ceremonies Volunteer Performer in the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony’. I couldn’t believe it! I was going to be in the opening ceremony of the Olympics! I didn’t know how to react to it! Whoever thought someone with no experience would be given the opportunity to represent their country and perform on the world’s biggest stage? I ended up being put in the Working Men/Women group to show the whole world the British Revolution that we once went through in the early years.

Once more I returned to 3 Mills, which would be our home for the next five Sunday’s. We received our Olympic badges/passes. It felt real all of a sudden. I mean I had a BADGE!

Apart from rehearsals, this was the first real chance to see Danny Boyle properly and give us a speech on what to expect ahead and it included him showing a montage/video clip of what he wants the 1000 volunteers to create, the industrial revolution of Britain. I have to say seeing that video montage was absolutely amazing and hit us all as to how big of a scale that video was and how powerful the scene was too

Danny then took smaller groups to look at a scale model of the stadium. It was huge! I couldn’t believe we would be performing in such a huge arena, the OLYMPIC arena at that.

The 3 Mills rehearsals were purely about learning the choreography. Once we graduated from there we would start to transform what we had learnt into a show. After five weeks at 3 Mills we moved onto the old Ford plant car park in Dagenham, officially known as 1:1. This outdoor space had two full scale replicas of the Olympic stadium, both fields of play separated by a giant circus tent.  This would be when we would learn our coordinates and the transitions we would make around the stage during our performance. The most exciting element about Dagenham was that each week our rehearsals got bigger and bigger as we were joined by more and more groups from our section. We got our first glimpse of the NHS performers, the drummers and those involved in the green and pleasant land. The first ten weeks of rehearsal were all about getting us ready to move into the stadium. By then we had learnt our choreography, learnt our transitions and learnt our coordinates of where to stand on stage. Now it was time to take things to the next level. Now it was time to graduate to the Olympic stadium...

After seeing the stadium on TV and newspapers from being a piece of land to the finish article, I never thought Id get to see or be inside the Olympic stadium, let alone take part in the biggest show piece on earth. I got my first glimpse of the stadium. Seeing the stadium for the first time was incredible. A real Goosebumps moment. I couldn’t believe in a few weeks we would be performing to 80,000. It was like being a school kid waking up early to go on a school trip, but every weekend!

The one thing that I didn’t enjoy and yet we will still laugh and joke about it was the meal packs provided to use at rehearsals in the stadium as no food or drinks were allowed to be entered in to the Olympic park. Funnily enough they were a big talking point during rehearsals. At first people were excited – we had something new at our rehearsals. The meal packs consisted of a bread-heavy, filling-light sandwich (AKA brick), plus some Pringles, a Nature Valley cereal bar and an apple. For every meal.  At every rehearsal. For three weeks. I swear if I see another Nature Valley cereal bar I will not be held accountable for my actions! I managed to accumulate quite a collection at the bottom of my bag! 

Unfortunately there was one section that had to be cut completely – a stunt bike team. Everyone was saying how devastated they were for these performers. To have rehearsed for so long and then not be in the ceremony is such a tragedy. But I hope that they know that everyone was sad for them and really respects all they had achieved thus far. 

For the final 5 weeks of rehearsals, I had a huge smile on my face as I had the biggest secret in the world which I couldn’t share with anyone and was happy with that as it kept people guessing and laughed off the media speculations of what to expect and their negative press on what was being leaked (was not the real thing!) The rehearsals in Dagenham dragged on a bit too long so to finally start rehearsing in the stadium meant a lot as it finally drew a picture of what our real sequence was going to look like. The rehearsals in the stadium were amazing, just literally being in the stadium is fantastic and a privilege to be able to walk around the stadium knowing that this stadium is where the top athletes will be competing too! and yes I ended up doing the 100m race with a few other friends and did a lap of honour too.The other great thing about stadium rehearsals were starting to see the lighting and effects that would be used during our section. Every rehearsal we would find out a little more and it would blow my mind every time! 

Olympic opening ceremony week arrived and there was a real buzz in the Olympic park as that Monday night was our first dress rehearsal in front of 45,000 people! Never have I performed in front of a huge scale of people inside one arena so there was a lot of pressure but at the same time was told to enjoy ourselves. It gave us a real insight into what to expect on the night and by Wednesday we had an audience of 60,000 and somewhere in there were my parents and my uncle! That added a lot of pressure but at the same time I felt really proud to be performing in front of them and was really happy that they were there to witness what I would be doing in front of the whole world in 2 days time.

3 months later, 160 hours of rehearsals, tiring journeys to and from London from Bradford, many friendships created and Show day arrived and I was absolutely excited at the prospect of performing in the Olympic opening ceremony, there was a sense of huge buzz everywhere I went. When I arrived in London, I met with other members of my group and travelled together in our ceremonies t-shirts for one last time to the Olympic stadium to put on a show for the whole world. I kept thinking to myself, we are the lucky ones chosen in the whole word in fact to perform on the biggest stage! 

There was a lot of waiting around back stage but it was fun as there were a lot of photos taken, mingling around with other groups as we didnt get the opportunity to do this before as we all had different schedule rehearsal date and times. I also had the pleasure of meeting the man who brought the games to this country and 2 time Olympic champion Lord Sebastian Coe.. absolute gentleman. 

Walking to the stadium from our base which was next to the velodrome was something I won’t forget as again, people were in a joyous mood to perform in front of the whole world. The walk was 40minutes to the stadium and everything was timed so we arrive at the stadium in time to perform. En-route to the stadium we would wave at the oncoming traffic in excitement, take lots more photos and then we noticed a stream of journalists who were waiting to take photos and news reporters getting clips of us which was exciting and amazing to know that we were all getting recognized for what we were about to do in a few minutes time.

Whilst waiting back stage, I kind of sneaked around other performers due to perform and had pictures with them and wished them all good luck and break a leg! We had little ear pieces in our ears in which Steve Boyd, the softly spoke but ever so enthusiastic American who guided us through our performance. As we were about to go on stage, I still couldn’t believe this was actually happening, the whole world is watching right now, my family back home, the royal family were all waiting to see our top secret segment! That resulted in needing a quick burst to the toilet but was unable too it was time to perform in front of the whole world.

Throughout my scene, I stayed focused during my routine and it was only when we stopped for the poppy moment that I had the chance to have a look around the stadium and was talking to myself, gobsmacked at the thought of 80,000 people watching this very scene right now and then realised wait a minute, the whole world is watching right now, don’t mess it up! Within our scene we had the amazing Evelyn Glennie, the world famous percussionist who played a big part in the industrial revolution in creating the sound that represents the revolution age and doing that whilst she is profoundly deaf which made it even . Evelyn was simply fantastic and an honour to share the same arena, especially during rehearsals as I just admired the way she plays the instrument by feeling the music vibrate through her bare feet. 

Kenneth Brannagh was also featured in our segment so we weren’t short of celebrity status being featured in our scene. The biggest moment came when the Olympic rings formed together in the centre and when we turned around and the music was lowered, the roar from the audience was so immense, I felt it at the back of my back, that feeling will stay with me for the rest of my life. Another big moment I felt very proud of was the poppy moment as It was the chance to remember those who fought for this country during the first and second world war and without them we wouldn’t be who or where we are right now. The huge response we have got for the scene that we have created is amazing, especially from the media and literally every photo in the newspapers had an image of the Olympic rings which us working men and women created and allowed to happen.

To be honest there isn’t a single word out there that could describe that night or how I felt straight after, I just started hugging anyone in front of me that was involved in the scene. It was such a huge role to be doing and one that I never had imagined doing in my life. To be a part of the Olympic Opening Ceremony is a huge honour and a privilege to be a part of British history and also happy to be a part of a scene that everyone seems to have enjoyed and will talk about our segment for years to come.

It’s over and it’s sad now. Danny also said something to us that I was reminded of in this account by one of the Working Men and Women: “There will be an emptiness that you’ll now have to fill with some other part of your lives” Its only 48 hours since the ceremony, but it’s completely true. I’ll see my rehearsal friends less; there’ll never be the excitement of walking into the stadium to do our full strike again. There will never be that fantastic atmosphere inside the stadium again. For months it was OURS – nobody could come in to it and find out our secret. You could turn yourself off from the outside world for a weekend and be a kid again – prance around doing warm ups, have a packed lunch and then loads of fun running around with props and bits of grass, wearing costumes, putting on silly make up. It was great to share it with the world, and to get the reaction it did, but it’s over and I can’t imagine ever doing something as amazing as that again...

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