How I was almost in the London 2012 Opening Ceremony

This is a tough blog post to write…

It is the eve of the London 2012 Olympics, and tomorrow the opening ceremony, produced by Danny Boyle, will commence in front of 80,000 spectators and a live TV audience of 1 billion. It is estimated that 4 billion people will see some part of the ceremony via news clips, the internet and so on.

Last night I was lucky enough to see the final dress rehearsal which included most of the first half of the ceremony up until the athlete’s parade. If you are expecting me to divulge any details then sorry, I’m saving the surprise!

Watching it was an extremely bittersweet experience. On one hand I got to witness an absolutely spectacular display. However on the other I sat there knowing that up I was going to be part of it until the segment I was in got cut for timing reasons. Once again, if you are reading hoping to find some vitriol or speculation as to why then sorry but you’ve come to the wrong place. Cuts happen, it is essentially show-business after all. The only thing I’ll say to add context to this post is that the press widely reported the cut segment as “stunt” bikes or BMX, but there was more to it than that.

In mid April an email from the communications secretary of my cycling club arrived in my inbox. It didn’t give much detail other than the club had been offered about 10-15 places in a cycling related segment of the ceremony and that signing up would involve a fairly significant time commitment. It was also made clear (as it has been in the press around the cut) that the position was remunerated – we were not volunteers.

A month later fifteen of us went down to a rehearsal site in Dagenham for an audition, and all of us got through. Our first rehearsal was also at Dagenham in early June, and only then, after signing our contracts and non-disclosure agreements, did we discover what we would be doing. We had rehearsals at the Dagenham site before transferring to the stadium itself later on that month.

Rehearsing in the stadium was pretty awesome, as you would expect. Naturally information was on a need to know basis so we knew next to nothing about anything else other than the segment we were working on. However during evening rehearsals just seeing the testing of the sound and lighting in the stadium made it pretty clear that the event would be visually spectacular. Naturally there were props littered about in nooks and crannies under the stadium that gave us glimpses into what might be going on elsewhere in the show.

What was to unkowningly be our final rehearsal was really the first time that the entire segment came together with all of our equipment ready. I’d love to describe what I was actually doing, but I’m still under contract and NDA. Maybe after the ceremony itself more can be said, or maybe even become apparent via the Explore the Ceremonies site.

We had three rehearsals and then the two tech/dress rehearsals left to go. However the next rehearsal two days later was cancelled so I used that day to go down to the accreditation centre and pick up my accreditation pass. Sadly on the very next day we all got an individual call to explain the decision that had been made on the Saturday night to cut the segment almost entirely. Only one part of it remains, a part that is integral to the traditions of Olympic opening ceremonies. At this point it has to be said that personally, I really appreciated the way that the Ceremonies staff we were dealing with handled the whole situation. They could have done it a lot more impersonally, but didn’t and have been very helpful in finding us extra tickets for the dress rehearsal and so on. As I said before, stuff happens.

My initial feelings of resignation and realism were slightly turned to anger on the following Wednesday when the news broke, but only because of I spent most of the day reading Twitter and getting wound up by the number of curmudgeons and naysayers slating the ceremony and everything Olympic in general.

What was most notable however is that none of the fifteen of us involved from my club emailed around with any reaction to being cut. It is as if we were just internalising it and not wanting to spark any debate. That is until after last night when we all got to go along and see the dress rehearsal we should have been taking part in. Today the email floodgates opened as we exchanged views on what we had seen, which soon turned into discussion on how we felt after being cut. When I emailed the sneek peek news clip (Warning, don’t watch if you want to truly save the surprise) that includes a glimpse of the remaining part of our segment one person responded:

Strange feeling watching that. Not sure I am going to enjoy tomorrow night. Why have we all been so deeply affected by this?

Which, I think, sums things up perfectly. With a professional head on I understand that tough decisions need to be made sometimes. However, when speaking from the heart I can’t be anything other than truly gutted that I had the opportunity to be part of a global event seen by billions. A once in a lifetime opportunity and something that I would be able to recount to any future generations of my family that may come along.

So, to those ten thousand or so volunteers and cast that will be performing tomorrow night, along with those in the closing ceremony and Paralympic ceremonies – good luck, you are awesome and will put on a display that will made London and the nation proud and which will entertain and enthrall the World. I won’t miss watching it for anything.

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