Culture Magazine

All Access Pass: Performance Secrets

By Pinkall @pinkall
13 Days to go!7 Days until our first dress rehearsal with audience!5 Days until our first full dress rehearsal!

All Access Pass: Performance Secrets

Notice the earphone chord hanging from this Beijing 2008 Olympic drummer's right ear

The clock is ticking - less than two weeks remain until the Opening Ceremony!  Yesterday, I gave some info on the 4 greatest Opening Ceremonies of all time with video.  If you haven't seen an Olympic Ceremony before, please watch these - they are magnificent.  Hopefully, you will have your own list of the greatest of all time after the Sochi Olympics and hopefully, the Sochi Opening Ceremony will top your list!
Today, I'm going to let you in on a little secret...shhhhh!  How do you think we produce a piece of choreographed art involving thousands of performers?  How do you think the ever-famous Beijing 2008 coordinated 2,008 drummers or 2,008 martial artists in elaborate routines? 
Anyone who has been in a marching band or at a college football game knows that sound travels relatively slow.  The clarinet player on one side of the band during the half-time show is usually playing slower than the drum section because they are far away, and the drum's echo is even a more distorted rhythm.  This same problem occurs in a 2,008 member group of drummers as occurs in a 50 member marching band.
To solve this problem, and to create what would seem like a perfectly choreographed routine, the performers actually have earphones with stage managers shouting at them.  For choreographed sections, the performers may be assigned numbers or commands so that when a couple thousand drummers actually have to do the same movement at once, they actually perform the same movement at once.  Without earphones, choreographed effects would look like a wave instead of simultaneous.
Even the people leading the countries in the parade of nations have earphones now, so they can be told whether to slow down or speed up.  This little Olympic secret has been widely used since 2000 and is directly responsible for the uptick in the elaborate artistic effects of the Olympic Ceremonies.
In 2012, a cast member snuck into the Olympic Stadium with a hidden camera to record their experience with voice commands during the performance.  Although London was less complicated than Sydney or Beijing, you can understand how this process works.

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