With protests outside the National Stadium often audible and coronavirus cases surging in Japan, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremony was mired in uncertainty and controversy. Many of the Japanese people were worried about inviting in the world when most of the capital was still in lockdown, and a stadium of empty seats made creating a feeling of connection near impossible.
Every Ceremony comes with a unique set of obstacles – in London 2012 it was managing the sheer volume of people that were involved and PyeongChang brought freezing conditions that made rehearsals difficult – but creating an Opening Ceremony amidst a global pandemic came with a whole new set of challenges. There is no precedent, no script to follow for trying to bring people together during a health crisis. But by building on our learnings from previous Olympic Ceremonies, we were able to provide the talented Japanese team with the technical insight and emotional support to create something spectacular, against all odds.
In 2014, when we first visited Tokyo, the world was a very different place. The Japanese were proudly looking forward to holding their first Olympics since 1998 in Nagano, and the teams were coming to terms with the enormity of what lay ahead. The new Stadium was yet to be built so being involved in those initial conversations meant that we were able to input on some key design elements. From making entrances wide enough to cater for large numbers of athletes and trucks to enter, to ensuring that the roof had enough loading capacity for lighting and audio, we helped the team design a state-of-the-art stadium that would work as well as look the part.
As Senior Adviser to the Executive Producer, Piers was responsible for ensuring that the multiple stakeholders understood the major technical requirements and helped steer the production process through a myriad of challenges. Eight more trips to Tokyo followed this initial meeting where Piers advised on everything from the redundancy strategy of the hydrogen fuelled Cauldron, to control rooms, rigging positions and replacing the turf on the field of play. Just as important as this technical insight however, was the emotional support that was required particularly in the final few months. Piers Shepperd said:
“A lot of people fall into silos under extreme tiredness and pressure. Part of my job is to bring the teams together in the same room and encourage people to talk. Fast paced communication is the key to solving problems. At other times people just need to hear you say – ‘you’re doing ok, the fear is quite normal! It will all come together brilliantly at the last minute’.”
After seven Olympic Ceremonies, Piers is well placed to provide this level of mentoring and despite very difficult circumstances the team managed to stage an incredible event for a global TV audience. Piers Shepperd said:
“Ceremonies have a unique way of uniting people. The Tokyo Olympics, despite being mired in controversy, turned out to be a huge inspiration to athletes, spectators and the world just when we needed it the most.”