For those intending to create spectacle for a living…
…Those interested in and inspired by the prospect of creating Spectacle to engage and move crowds would be well-advised to study yesterday’s Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremonies in Glasgow…
Not, however, as exemplary concept execution.
Rather, as egregious example of missed opportunities, dropped balls and what would seem to be poorly thought through approaches to storytelling and pageantry.
The full ceremony on YouTube, here.
At the outset, it must be acknowledged that the simple presentation of the athletes is a powerful and moving component of such Ceremony, in and of itself. Beyond that, these Ceremonies had Moments, here and there; momentary tableaux of beauty and near-compelling breadth. These moments, though, were few and far between.
IMHO, the producers and creatives responsible for this Ceremony have let down their audience(s), significantly; leaving it to the audience to infuse the experience with more substance than was actually there out of excitement at the fact of the phenomenon and their own patriotism and sportsmanship.
Having more than three years to plan this Spectacle, it could have been done so much better…without spending an extra dime. What was missing is:
- a sense of connection with a live audience and
- the focus on the experience in the stadium…and, it would seem…
Last one, first.
A powerful and exciting in-stadium experience, well shot, will translate to the remote audience. This Ceremony, especially at the outset, leaned heavily on pre-produced and inauthentic media; draining energy from the stadium and giving the audience at home no sense of spectacle.
The point of being in a stadium for a Spectacle is to be where the spectacle is happening. Presenting video after video disengages the audience; or, at best, doesn’t engage them as fully or as personally.
In fact, throughout the Ceremony, it seemed that most of the money had been spent on media, animation and graphics when – for my money – just a fraction of that spent on rehearsal halls and staging might well have made for an exponentially-more-compelling Experience. The result was a relatively energy-free, intended-extravaganza that ultimately failed to fully engage.
Even the Hosts were speaking to the Cameras.
Being present in the stadium is the only opportunity for the audience to be immersed in the Experience. When what is delivered in the stadium is designed for close-ups to be telecast to the remote audience – as was a basic mistake of Danny Boyle’s London Ceremonies – everyone is shortchanged…especially the people in the seats.
In the Positives; the flag entrance was very cool. Nicely done. For the most part, the Put Children First (see below) live segments were solid (though the onscreen talent could have made an appearance in the stadium at the culmination), the international chorus was pretty fantastic and the musical talent was superb.
Beyond that, though…
The very first speaker, Ewan McGregor (love the guy!), wasn’t even in the stadium and was pre-recorded. That entire set-up would have been far more compelling were he to have been live and present. Throughout his moments, he would introduce by video, another video. Lifeless. Not exciting.
Despite John Barrowman’s efforts to infuse energy into the opening number, that segment was focus-free and scattered; launching the evening with little foundation or gravity. Just a moment of pageantry to settle the audience and create a feeling of portent could have made all the difference; followed by something similar to what was attempted as a light-hearted “tour” of Scotland; it’s history, culture and place in the world.
The Scottish Regiment might have been better and more effectively placed, right up front; setting the stage with Legacy and Portent, making a powerful, emotional connection at the very outset without a word being spoken.
Starting the show with one person in the stands is derivative of televised awards shows and dismisses the presence and priority of the Live Audience. This is fine at the Oscars, which is a televised event with a live audience versus such Ceremonial Spectacle, which is a Live Event that is being televised.
So many slow and sloppy walk-ons of principals and performers. Wherefore?
So much ragged choreography. In three years, even volunteers can be rehearsed and deliver crisply.
(And god bless ’em all for their visible and infectious enthusiasm, passion and commitment; many a show of mine has been carried by volunteer talent, onstage and backstage; I deeply appreciate and respect them all.)
The massive field stage pretty much won the battle for attention in the first segments.
So much space, so few people on it. With successive segments on that field, the space underscored the sparseness and looked underproduced and under cast.
Further exacerbating this effect was the poor choice of a “wooden” stage. The blandness of that surface offers no contrast with whatever is to populate that stage; thus what is on stage cannot be effectively articulated with the lighting…a technique that can effectively “hide” the vast empty space(s) and keep audience focus on the points of action. This is especially pertinent to the small groups that were running around the surface.
Too, a contrasting surface would have greatly enhanced the beauty of the “500 miles” ballet; giving it more drama. As it was, it just looked naked. What lighting effects there were was distracting and diffuse.
Alongside the field stage, the vastly underused Main Stage that stretched the entire length of the field, backed by the massively distracting video screen, served to underscore the relative small physical size of the performers as well as their numbers. Rather than supporting the onstage or on-field performers with these features, the screens and stages effectively fought with and overpowered the live performers…until the addition of iMag on the big screen was finally used with Rod Stewart, et al.
Speaking of Nuance: Rod Stewart…
- Truly needs no introduction; his voice and presence would have been a most effective and more exciting “introduction,” and
- He might have been better used only once, after the Procession. Using him twice dilutes both Moments.
Back to the field-long screen. This could have been used for far greater effect than to have been filled with all those expensive and often seemingly meaningless graphics.
- It could have been used interactively; such that the performers and the screen worked in tandem, collaborating for effect far greater than the sum…
- Rather than compete with the Processional with it’s big, colorful, distracting animations; perhaps successive and kinetic picture-in-picture images that paralleled the athletes proceeding across the field would have kept focus on the athletes and enhanced the intimacy.
- Using the relatively tiny, up-high screens for iMag pulled attention from the field and the main stage. Not a good call, imho.
The processional was sloppy and slow. 75 minutes for 6500 athletes is too long. This is where that fantastically-long stage down the side of the field could have been put to great use; introducing each team, shoulder to shoulder and marching them onto the field.
We do know from experience that, with this “Broadway” technique, over 11,000 athletes can be brought onto the field in Procession in about 45 minutes with great, sustained excitement, pageantry and dramatic energy.
Another Missed Opportunity.
TelePrompTer. Next to and hidden by the onstage monitors? Susan Boyle? Just asking.
Put Children First. Nice segment and undertone with the potential to be very exciting; though the ball was dropped. How great it would have been, as we’d been set up for this Big Moment throughout the first part of the show, to see the numbers rocket upwards as the entire world SMS’d their donations to UNICEF. Instead, it was Everybody Do This and On To the Next Thing with no follow-through.
Left hanging, we were.
The cameras were a little out of control. During key moments of the program, when actually paying attention to the speaker was probably of the most importance (for The Queen, perhaps; and Malaysia…), cameras were roaming the crowds, seeking Candids, which inspired the athletes to watch out for themselves appearing on the iMag screens and wave to them…
This probably would have been a good time to not do that.
The baton. What happened to the baton journey? All that pre-produced footage of the seaplane arriving in Glasgow, the staging of the baton exiting the plane and the ten-second Pyro Thing as the Baton began the final leg of the journey to the stadium…then, nothing until it showed up in the Stadium on the main stage.
Another incomplete thought, another broken narrative. Why not just save all that video for the introduction of the baton to the stadium and forego what became the throw-away Riverside Moment? It didn’t serve to move the evening forward; rather, it served to break it up with no payoff.
Was there a rehearsal for the opening of the baton? Her Majesty seemed UnAmused.
To be fair (and I always strive to be so); by the end, the stage(s) were full, the audience and athletes where happy. In such events, the very fact of them happening generally mitigates many failings of the production. Pride in the athletes, nationalism, just the exuberance of all that Youth can come together to create an Evening of Fond Memories.
My point is that were it more fully thought-through, with consideration for the audience and engaging use of the venue; the experience would have been profoundly more resonant, compelling and viscerally memorable.
The Five Tenets, “The Original Five” would have been effectively applied to this project. In fact, I am inspired to build a Master Class around the video of this ceremony. There is a lot to be learned from it, IMHO.
“IMHO” remains available from iTunes and the Apple eBookstore for iOS and OS. Incorporating the basics and examples of application for the Five Tenets of Creating Compelling Experience, it is a free download.
Patriotism and sports fandom serve to cover a lot of faults – see the finale of “Red, White, and Blaine” in “Waiting for Guffman,” which uses the Panthers fight song and the ensuing applause as a cover for the dreadfully staged, badly acted musical that precedes it. Classic community theater, sorry.