Although Piers Shepperd (Wonder Works director) had worked on 7 Olympic Games Ceremonies since 2004, it was a privilege, as the only international consultant asked, to work as consultant technical director over four years to support and journey with a highly talented, but Olympic untested, PyeongChang Ceremonies team as they shared their story in the largest show on earth.
Initially Wonder Works helped in the initial stages of the creative development and designing the flying system and stadium systems infrastructure. Piers was also on-hand to challenge ideas around redundancy, systems integration and to stop expensive and time-consuming mistakes,
This South Korean team took the brave step of saying “we can do this ourselves”, which I fully supported. My role wasn’t prescriptive. It was about building awareness of how other Ceremonies had managed risk and tackled the issues common to all major events. We also reviewed the main technical elements and brought everyone up-to-speed on tools such as show control and time code. The PyeongChang Organizing Committee became informed enough to avoid costly mistakes and could speed up decision making. For example, we ensured the purpose-built stadium had adequate scenic storage, control and equipment rooms, a critical need so easily and expensively overlooked.
Although Piers and the Wonder Works team have undoubtedly worked hard to transfer technical understanding, their major contribution has been in developing a ‘Ceremony fit’ team capable of realising the creative vision, managing a hostile physical environment and resilient under extreme pressure. As Piers commented,
You can’t afford to have 400 people on the payroll for six months, so for a technical director it’s about creating an effective team, fast. Hardly anyone had done an event of this size, so I focused on getting back to basics – regular communication and education on how technical production should run. I love the fact that in the Opening Ceremony we saw North Korea and South Korea come in as one team. We had no idea that was going to happen 6 weeks before.
The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics Ceremonies team clearly pulled it off. As the Washington Post reported of the Opening Ceremony,
It was aspirational, dreamy, idyllic…The director’s artistic touch framed a meaningful celebration, but it would not have graduated to powerful without some real humanity. That happened when North and South Korea marched into the stadium under a unified flag…waving little white flags featuring an image of the countries’ peninsula in blue and basking in rock-star applause.