Now that a day has passed and everyone around the world has had the chance to witness the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies, I can commence my own reaction to the event.
(One of the 2012 Olympic mascots)
The summer Olympics have served as an informal bookend to my life. Four years ago, I was alone in a foreign country for the first time in my life. I was scared and excited and terrified and just trying to find my own way. But amidst all the wonder and the chaos that is a person’s first journey alone, something unexpected arose to guide me; the Olympics. The Olympics hold a special place in my heart because they not only paralleled my first foray into adulthood, they served as a major catalyst and inspiration in the creation of my artistic and personal viewpoint. I believe in theater as a mechanism for fostering global dialogue and effecting positive, sustainable change. I believe that theater is not simply just the universal language but the universal forum. It is through our theater makers, our actors, our playwrights, our lighting board operators, and etc. that we are able to share and receive stories, to communicate with our fellow man on our most fundamental and human levels. Four years ago in Beijing I saw the Olympics, truly saw them for the first time. It is because of what I witnessed there that I began to think of the power and importance of global communication and connection.
Getting to witness the opening ceremony for Beijing whilst being in Beijing was truly a once in a life time moment. And it was a spectacular event. One of the best moments of my life was standing in the alleys of my host family’s apartment complex watching the fireworks explode over the city. The ceremony was beautifully and gracefully executed, and as I stood watching those fireworks, the pride that swept through the heart of every Chinese person at that moment, also swept through me. I didn’t have to be Chinese to be proud of what they had accomplished or to know how much this mattered to China. It was the first time I felt a global pride in another nation’s accomplishment. It was a honor to be a part of that.
This opening ceremony was perfectly British which is exactly what it was meant to be. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I don’t understand the comparison being drawn between this opening ceremony and Beijing. The opening ceremonies are meant to be a reflection of the host nation, it is an exhibition of all that makes that particular country unique. China and England are two entirely different nations, they had two entirely different opening ceremonies; that’s part of what makes the whole process so wondrous and grand. It’s why the opening ceremonies are such an integral and vital part of the Olympic experience; it is serves as the perfect balance between accentuating what sets apart and emphasizing what bring us together.
I loved the Beijing opening ceremonies because they were so very Chinese. And I loved the Vancouver ceremonies because they were so very Canadian and I loved London’s opening ceremony for the same reason, because it was so very English. I thought Danny Boyle’s approach to the whole event was extremely innovative. He constructed a symbol of Britain that was very personal and patriotic while still maintaining a high level of global accessibility. While watching the opening ceremonies, it felt as if, for a few moments, the whole world got to be ever so slightly British. There were a number of elements that really stood out to me. First was the opening narration by Benedict Cumberbatch. For those of you outside of the UK, if you didn’t see it, I would highly recommend googling it. His speech was a very appropriate induction to the London Olympic Games; full of power and magnitude but coupled with an eagerness to play and share. I also adored the bit with the Queen and James Bond. It allowed Britain to honor and poke fun at two of it’s most iconic figures. And, let’s be honest, those corgis were ridiculously adorable. I also loved the very end of the ceremony, with Sir Paul McCartney singing Hey Jude. I thought that was a great way to close the ceremony because it demonstrated one of the greatest British exports ever, the Beatles, while also reminding us of how powerful and transnational music and song are. Though the Beatles origins are British, and the British have every right to be proud of that, their music and their legacy belongs to the world.
(A poster of the last time London hosted the Olympics in 1948)
At the end of the day, this wasn’t just a British event, it was a global one. The ceremonies weren’t just a presentation of British history, rather it was a showcase of the universality of so many different elements of British culture (i.e their moves, music, literary works). Yes it was a display of British nationalism but, even more than that, it was a display of Britain’s connection to the world. Ultimately, it was about what we share with one another rather than what we don’t.
I know that these are troubled times we live in. But then again, when have the times been anything else? Instead of focusing on all that’s bad in the world perhaps we should take a cue from the Olympics and, just for a moment, focus on all that’s good. This is the first Olympic Ceremony in the history of the Olympic Games where a woman has been represented by every participating country. Does anyone else realize how astounding and amazing that is? That is something people have dreamed and striven towards for decades and I got to witness it. And I hope I witness it become an insignificant factoid as year after year that becomes the norm rather than the exception. But, with the full recognition of all the work the world has left to do, in this moment, I couldn’t be prouder or feel more integrated within the global community.
To me, the most sacred and precious of all the Olympic rituals is the lighting of the Olympic flame. I don’t care how cliche it sounds but when I see that flame I think of all the light and all the goodness in people throughout the world. This year’s Olympic cauldron was exquisite. I thought that it’s construction of copper ‘petals’ representing all the different nations was genius. I also thought the lighting of the flame was a lovely gesture. Seven former Olympians literally and symbolically passing on the Olympic flame to seven young athletes. It was incredibly moving. They were all so happy and proud of one another, it was a beautiful tribute to the interconnectedness of the past and the present. The mission statement of this year’s Olympic Opening Ceremonies was ‘to inspire a generation.’ While I certainly don’t claim to speak for the whole of or even a segment of my generation, I can confidently and truthfully say that I was both awed and inspired.
In my life time there have been 12 Olympic Games. They have occurred all over the world, even in my native United States. I have watched them on televisions that were thousands of miles away and I’ve watched them from my backyard. I have grown up with the Olympics. One of the most crucial elements in that process, of growing up, was my recognition, adoption, and pride in being a global citizen.
There was a moment in the middle of the ceremony, towards the Parade of Nations, with Sir Time Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, that particularly embodied this. Sitting at a replica of the computer he used to work on, he tweeted to the entire world the phrase “This is for everyone.” Perhaps he was only referring to the world wide web but, personally, I think it was more than that. I think he was referring to the games themselves. And he’s absolutely right. The Olympics are for everyone. Everyone. There is no other cultural event that is so universally shared by the human race as the Olympics.
Regardless of the medal count, of the controversies, of who did and did not win, I would like to thank the London Olympic Committee for this opening ceremony, for reminding me, once again, of the true heart and spirit behind the Olympic Games; this is for everyone.
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