Whither Pollyanna…?

This has been a great week on imho. Last week’s post inspired the most discussion and the greatest number of hits in the brief history of this site.

Excellent insights were offered, conflicting opinions shared and, through the process of the intervening days, I have had the opportunity to learn the details of the Experience that was provided in the Stadium. In addition, I’ve been enlightened to discover that I’d made two, egregious errors in my first-pass analysis of the work:

  1. I missed the first of my own Tenets of Experience Creation; that being “Exploration of Assumption.” Neglecting to take a look at what I, m’self, was assuming; I leaned toward acceptance of some components of show and approaches to the storytelling that were more than ill-advised…they were downright misguided, results of poor judgement and myopic decision-making.
  2. I allowed myself to be swayed, to become emotionally engaged by the “fact” of some of the components despite the distracting presentation of them.

Now, that being said; there is nothing wrong with being moved by these ceremonies, even as they were presented. Quite the contrary, simply being moved is really one of the points of such ceremonies and spectacle. Many of the components and approaches to which I referred as perplexing me were, upon further exploration, actually poorly-informed miscalculations and poorly conceived approaches.

On the positive side; I liked what I liked and still like those few, profound components I experienced: I was moved by the presence of the athletes and the Fact of the Moment; though, I now see – and was helped to see with immediacy and alacrity by some of my peers – that I brought a lot of myself to my experience of the event; seeing the event through my filter of evocation.

Evocation is one of the most powerful forms of storytelling. Touching the memories and making emotional connections within each audience member is, ultimately, crucial to effective storytelling…from the historical to the fantastic, it’s gotta connect.

I failed to maintain my objectivity and to experience the ceremonies with the global purpose in mind in lieu of indulging in my own sentimentality. A wonderful luxury, and not my purpose in this context.

With professional equilibrium restored and much impassioned conversation shared on this site and many behind-the-scenes emails and phone calls to recalibrate; I’ll now get to that.

So. What has come to light, for me, is the extent to which this production was conceived and staged for a television audience. What I accepted, soft-pedaled, as irregularities and distractions were, ultimately, actually the result of intentional planning. The show was choreographed primarily to be experienced onscreen. Some of the dance numbers were so intricately intimate in their staging as to be lost in the stadium, itself.

If you have not read the comments from the previous post; that might be a good investment. Among those are some very well thought-out critiques of the ceremony that broaden the perspective. Further, the passion in these conversations articulates the importance that is placed on these ceremonies that is far greater than the sum of its successive parts. The world seeks evocative magnitude, here, and did not get it.

Not good.


First and foremost, what was missing was sweep and scope; a sense of momentum and global history on a grand scale. Most all the ceremony was insular and self-referential to Britain; I don’t recall seeing much with a global perspective in the Ceremonies, and virtually no reference to or evocation of the Olympic Heritage outside the obvious of the Parade of Nations.

The metaphor of the Forging of the Olympic Rings was brilliantly launched and executed. A powerful, dynamic and energetic image; though it didn’t go anywhere.

Sadly lost, especially in the stadium, was the Metaphor of the Cauldron. Of those to whom I’ve spoken who were in the stadium, last Friday; none were even aware of the copper “shells” being carried at the head of each delegation, and no one saw them being placed in the ground. No foreshadowing, no explanation, no awareness. My contacts each learned of the connection when watching the recorded broadcast, later on.

That could have been presented so much better; making more of a visual point of each being carried-in, and the gathering of them into the cauldron; if that were possible.

We who had close-up views and ongoing (sometimes relentless) television commentary became aware of the genesis of the cauldron just before ignition. It was a magnificent metaphor; the gathering of nations to rise and ignite the Olympic Flame. Unfortunately, that deep, human, most meaningful nuance was not communicated to the audience in the stadium…and only barely so to the global audience…at least that in the US.

The two, most criminal missteps among the trivial and picayune would be, imho:

  1. Dividing the focus of the audience. This, imho, is anathema in live spectacle. The intentional need for video screens in order to appreciate the story being told (when there was a story), keeps the left brain distractingly engaged while the audience seeks to put the components together and make sense of the Experiential Narrative. This diminishes the Experience. To truly connect and evoke, the story must be delivered via the Right Brain; keeping the analytical Left Brain dormant, quiet.
  2. Telling stories not germane to the rest of the world. Once the “narrative” launched into National Health Care, it became irrelevant to most other countries. We get that the Brits are proud of this system, and it’s a good one…a solid success story. What is this to be telling the populations of countries that do not have this? How is it relevant to the rest of the world, during the Olympics?
  3. The Parade of Nations. I have never understood why the athletes don’t enter the stadium immediately after the opening of the Ceremony. The athletes are the most important part of the night and the entire Olympics: not only are they a highlight of the “show,” they ARE the spectacle, the raison d’ceremony. I see no reason they should miss a moment of the night. This is not specific to London 2012; though this was the least ceremonial of an entrance I’ve seen. I believe athletes should enter, first, and be the only focus of the stadium for that (albeit Protracted) Moment.
  4. Far too much free-standing video. “Bond & Her Majesty:” okay, fine, have your fun. Still, that bit might have played better at Closing; but it did communicate the full support of the Regent. Beyond that, the filming of everything from choirs to the torch jetting down the Thames (part of which was obviously pre-recorded) not only effectively divides focus but more importantly removes the minds and imaginations of the audience from what is before them in the stadium.

Has my tone changed from last week? I think it may have…

As I said, up top; what I liked last week, I still like. In taking a breath, putting my Inner Pollyanna to bed and taking an Experiential Storyteller’s look at the show, I am obligated to have taken this bolder stance in what perplexed me.

A wonderful experience, a nice job, yet I believe the London Ceremony fell far short of meeting its purpose and mandate.

This post is going to mean some trouble for me. While I don’t generally expect all to agree with my point of view; most of my English friends were adamantly enthusiastic about the Ceremonies…sometimes even with quite the edge. One actually said that, “…anyone who criticizes those Ceremonies should be shot!”

Such ferocious support offers to me the sense of an undercurrent of doubt; that the Vociferous Defenders actually know, in their heart of hearts, that the defended needs defending. Some of the same individuals so vehemently proclaiming perfection had been, just moments prior, sharing stories of times during the ceremonies when they could not find the action on the field; that what was taking place on the stadium floor was at times confusing and even difficult to decipher.

This is another conversation for another time. It is not unheard-of for audiences – having spent great amounts of money for something hyped beyond measure – will convince themselves that what they experiences was fantastic and surpassed all expectation. I’ve seen it on Broadway, I’ve seen it in theme parks, I’ve seen it in stadia.

The London Ceremonies, in the context of a television spectacular celebrating Britain, were good; there were some wonderful, powerful moments. Some parts were excitingly imaginative, profoundly well-conceived and staged; some other parts were quite the opposite. They were big and good and fun…a fine television show.

As a live experience; not so much.

Not quite Olympian.


5 thoughts on “Whither Pollyanna…?

  1. You are an amazing man Kile. What makes you great iMHO is your ability to reconcile with yourself where things didnt quite play well. As i have read your associates comments, I now realize part of what makes you who you are, is the amazing minds that challenge and cheer you. I like others cherish your great mind.

  2. I don’t know, I think the first post-Beijing ceremony was going to have to go in some other direction, away from the colossal spectacle and towards more challenging ideas. Did London succeed? Not entirely. But they simply couldn’t have outdone China for scale and precision. This one had to be different and new, or it was doomed. I think the attempt is worth more than the outcome, to a degree.

    • See?
      You ARE a nicer guy than am I.
      Though, I do agree that such an attempt needed to be made. I was hoping to see something more intimate and personal. Given the willingness of London to invest in something of magnitude; I think what was missing was a savvy Executive Producer who knows the medium and the context who could have offered strong guidance to Danny Boyle. As it was, I sense he was un-managed by individuals or committees who really didn’t know what they were doing; thus was able to run free and overwhelm with articulations of vision which, when material, didn’t deliver. Sort of a Julie Taymor does “Spiderman” scenario.

  3. I too appreciate your willingness to reassess from a fresh perspective, what had moved you so powerfully while viewing the show. IMHO it should not diminish in any way Your experience. Okay, it was produced primarily for TV…no surprise there. I thought it was fabulous, despite some of the distractions and the incessant commentary. This discussion has been very interesting and enlightening…thanks for sharing!

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