UBC Aquatic Centre is a national training centre for the Canadian Olympic Swim Team, and every four years there is a focus on ramping up their swimmers for the Olympic Time Trials, and then getting the successful racers ready for the main event.
When I started hooping in 2005, I worked full-time as Head Instructor at the UBC Aquatic Centre, and I practiced hooping on the outdoor pool deck during my lunch breaks. My breaks happened during one of the two daily practice sessions for the high performance swimmers, which meant that the team and the coaches would pass by my hooping area on their way to the water. Watching my progress over the months, they often gave me positive feedback, including “You could be in the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics!”… which jumpstarted my imagination!
Vancouver was bidding to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, so there was certainly the possibility that the Games would happen in my city… and I started dreaming: what about a hoop that looked like a snowflake? I could cut out pieces of foam, attach them somehow to the outside of my hoop, cover the whole thing with silver glitter paint… and it would be AWESOME!
I haven’t figured out the snowflake application yet (my current thought is to try it with fabric that will flutter and reflect, but not break if the hoop gets dropped).. but I have applied to be a performer for the Opening Ceremonies!
The call went out a few months ago for performers, and I followed the link to their application form on the 2010 website. After a few weeks had passed, I had a phonecall: “Hi Christa! This is Christina, your former hoop student… but I’m calling about the Opening Ceremonies!”
Christina is on the Ceremonies team, and these folks have it down to a fine art form: after our phone conversation (Me: “Really?! Oh my god!!!”), I received an email outlining -exactly- what to expect on my audition day.. these are people who have thought a lot about creating a comfortable environment for their applicants. A reminder email was sent a couple days in advance, but I didn’t need it - I had been nervously anticipating the audition for weeks!
On arrival, there were signs all around the building that just said “Entrance” with an arrow… no specifics on the signage, I’m guessing to keep curious passersby from joining the crowd and throwing off their organization. We had been told to arrive within a 15 minute window, and to be prepared to be in a lineup outside (with a warning that there wasn’t any shelter if the weather was bad). There were already a number of people ahead of me (29, as it turns out), and it was no hardship to wait in the lovely sunshine and work on my knitting project.
As the line made its way inside, the processing system became apparent: show your id to the reader (and then have the inputter greet you by name after bringing up your application by birthdate), take the giant numbered card and the measurement slip (with the same number printed on top), then slide over to the wardrobe people. Get measured (head, neck, chest, waist, back width, waist-to-knee, waist to ankle, sleeve length) and answer questions about your dress, pant, shoe and leotard size, then pin the giant numbered card to your shirt and head around the corner to sit down for a head shot, stand up for a full body shot, then carry on to the waiting area where there were seats lined up in front of a projection screen playing footage of previous Opening Ceremonies.
What struck me first was how FRIENDLY everyone was! I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where the staff or volunteers were all at such a similar, high level of happiness! There was a strong feeling of genuine warmth, with a willingness to chat with us along the way that totally removed any sensation of mass processing (even though that was what was smoothly happening in the background). Lots of laughter and smiles, and my nerves were starting to melt away!
The other performers were a mixed bag: obviously some clowns in place (one in costume, with a rabbit in a pet carrier along for the ride, another making balloon sculpture while we waited), other hoopers (including Sarah and her partner from Primal Fire, who I recognized from meeting in Victoria at the 2008 juggling festival), some stilters, a kite flyer, and a puppeteer complete with puppet on his arm!
Christina stopped the video a couple times to let us know what was happening (”The group ahead of you is still in the Movement Studio… and you are a really small group so we finished the processing in record time!”) and to review the Agreement we had made on our online application, including committing to a ton of practice sessions and promising not to share any aspect of the Ceremony ahead of time with friends, family or the press. (I did ask about the ability to blog about the audition process, so I’m not breaking any rules at this point!)
Eventually, the Movement team was ready for us. We were lined up according to our registration number, and marched in to the Movement Studio (aka school gymnasium).. to be greeted with clapping and cheering! Woo hoo! Formed quickly into 10 lines spaced across the gym, we were then introduced to the half dozen people on the stage and four team leaders on the floor, and joined in the applause to recognize the sound, camera, and first aid folks who were helping out.
Exercise one: carrying your gear, move through the room as if you’re part of the crowd at New Years Eve in Times Square, being dramatic and showing your personality as you move for 8 beats, and then freeze for 8 beats.
Moving and freezing to the beat of the music was no problem, but I found myself doing my usual shyness and avoiding eye contact or interaction while I moved around.. and quickly changed to chatting and complimenting people as we mingled, much better! The loudest of our group were the taller men, hooting and hollering and slapping hands.. and I wanted to join in with that, but the exercise was halted before I could!
Next up: learning a short dance routine. It was carefully explained to us that the judges were aware that we weren’t all trained dancers and that those of us who weren’t applying as dancers wouldn’t be evaluated on this performance other than to see how our attitudes and personalities show up during the training process and filming.
The four dance trainers split us into groups and started rehersing the routine, and then we lined up to perform it directly in front of the judges and video cameras. Organized again: they had us run through it twice, switching the front line with the back line so everyone had a chance to be front-and-centre, and after our group was finished they had us stand in place while they completed their discussion and note-taking.
As we went from practice to performance, the vibe of our entire audition group showed itself: cheering and yelling for each group as they went up for their turn in front of their judges, and the only competetive comment I heard was from one of the dance trainers talking about the explosive grunt that was part of the routine, “We’re much louder than they are!”
The next part of the audition was a personal interview: 10 performers would line up in front of the judges (and camera), and each person would have a chance to introduce themselves, talk about their skills and passions, use whatever languages they knew, and basically show off their stunning personality in hopes of being chosen to participate in the Ceremony.
I was able to overhear some of the performers, and was tickled to hear the number of us who added “.. and I’m learning to ride the unicycle!” to our skill inventory. Some of us were obviously more comfortable speaking in front of the camera than others, and it was a pleasure to watch and listen to those who could really turn on the energy as they interacted with the judges.
Once that was done, we were brought back in front of the stage for a final wrap up. We were thanked for our awesome energy, told about the next steps in the audition process (we’d hear from them in September), asked for help in recruiting more tap dancers and fiddlers, and requested to again recognize the people helping out with the event.
The most exciting thing? While talking about the variety of performers they would be using for the Ceremonies, another role was mentioned: Audience Coordinator (or Director, or Coach, or something…)… the person who gets to work with the audience members in a particular area to help them be part of the visual spectacle: “Okay, everyone raise your blue cards now! Up overhead, that’s right! Awesome!” “Okay, blue cards down, now pick up your sparkly twirlers! Great!” If you’ve ever watched a Ceremony and seen the whole stadium turn one colour or another (or multiple colours to create a pattern).. this is the work of the audience and their handlers… and THIS is one of the few roles in the Opening Ceremony that can actually see the whole event!
I’m a little torn between trying to get this job, or sticking it out as a hooper or dancer. As performers, we will be in the backrooms and hallways under the stadium, waiting for our few moments of fame but having no way of seeing the ceremony as it is happening. (I’ve experienced this in the past, as one of thousands of atheletes marching into a stadium for the 2002 Gay Games in Syndey - lots of chatter and singing while we waited, but not a lot to do for the two hours we were in the marshalling area)
Anyway, it was a delightful afternoon, and the energy and attitude of all people involved was a huge part of making it so enjoyable. Even more impressive? The Ceremonies team had been at this for three weekends already, had several more ahead of them, and we were the fourth group of seven (I think?) they were seeing that day. To be able to maintain that positive environment for thousands of applicants going through screening? That’s worth a gold medal.