By the third rehearsal we had moved outside and to the old Ford plant at Dagenham. Unfortunately that is way over in east London and as there was pressure to ensure a reliable tube and train network during the Olympics there were many engineering works timed for weekend rehearsal days. The journey to and from Dagenham was a pain but at least we were all given a travel card and a ride on a bendy bus from the nearest tube station to the rehearsal site.
From this point the whole WMW group would be involved so it took a while for everyone to arrive and we waited in a huge marquee. There were two rehearsal areas, one on each side of the marquee. This was so two segments of the show could be rehearsed at the same time. During breaks it was possible to sneak over to the other side and snoop. A group called swing out sisters were often pushing beds around and another group called Thanks Tim would be dancing their socks off.
At this first weekend at Dagenham our rehearsal space was basically a massive car park that had pot holes all over it and the Mass Team (mass movement) referred to it as Beirut. By the second week a lovely new tarmac surface had been laid but as it was only a temporary surface so there was no drainage. Unfortunately 2012 was one of the wettest on record so as the weeks went by we had to get used to working in deep puddles and getting very wet.
By now we had been divided into different areas and these were named after counties. Imagining England's green and pleasant land as counties A was county Ayshire, B was Berkshire, C was Cornwall, D was Devon etc. I was in county J for Jersey and we did know Jersey was not actually in England or a county but I was a Jersey boy and proud of it. Our county had the biggest variety of props to move, a house, barn and two giant chimneys to build. As well as this we were right in the middle of the FOP (field of play) so moving props on and off the set would not be easy.
Our rehearsal area was dedicated to the industrial revolution sequence and the county's were marked out to give us some orientation. This included the six entrances called Voms and where the Royal box would be. There was a ring around the whole area called the M25 outside of which was the off camera area dubbed the black zone. All of this would make up the exact dimensions of the space available in the stadium itself. As weeks went by and more props were added it made it easier to imagine what to expect on performance night.
At these early rehearsals we were told what was being attempted was the biggest live scene change in history but we actually had no idea how difficult it would be. We were actors just pretending to carry props or using lightweight things like tarpaulin sheets instead of turf and traffic cones instead of guard rails. While at Dagenham the mass team began to get a feel for our movement patterns around the FOP and assemble some sort of order from this chaos. It was critical the scene changed happened fast so there were various experiments to established the best way for the working men and women to enter the Field of play. Sometimes we would enter the FOP from one direction other times would all be crouched down in position around the edge and appear from the black zone.
The catering at Dagenham was via a burger van which always had a long queue, so just like when I was at School I brought a packed lunch. There was bottled water by the pallet load just incase we were dehydrated in the hot summer sunshine. No chance of that but fortunately there was also plenty of tea, coffee and hot chocolate. As it rained most of the time, a nice hot chocolate or two went down a treat.
Another group were introduced to us at Dagenham who were known as the Warriors and this would be the group that first emerged from the uprooted tree on the Tor. These were the tough guys who would help us get the heavy props off the field of play or FOP as it was know. Basically on the night we got props to the warriors based on the M25 and they would load these onto carts in the black zone. The black zone was the area the cameras didn't see so it was hectic. The warriors didn't really get the praise they deserved as it was their hard work that allowed the WMW to get back on the FOP and grab the next prop. While at Dagenham other groups appeared such as the Suffragettes who could be heard singing an original suffragette song as they marched around the M25, The Brunels who were already wearing long coats and top hats and then came the Marshals. There were about a 1000 marshals who were the drummers and would enter the field of play by descending from the audience, later they would also form the lines for the athletes parade.
A few weeks into rehearsals the props became more realistic with tarpaulin sheets swapped for astro turf but it was not until we transferred to the stadium that the real size, shape and weight of the props would be apparent. In order to prepare us for the physical challenge our warm up routines became more intense with added crazy stuff. One week about a 1000 of us did the Bus Stop 70s dance routine which must have been a sight for the motorists looking down from the nearby dual carriageway flyover.
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