By the end of June the rehearsals had moved from Dagenham to the Olympic stadium in Stratford. Just like at Dagenham we had to carry our photo ID but the stadium also had Airport style X-ray machines and metal detectors. Most of the the men in our cast group had steel toecap boots as part of our show night costume which were issued early so the boots could be wore in. Unfortunately the steel toe caps would set of the metal detectors and this prompted a frisking from a burley G4 security chap. To avoid this I carried my boots in a bag and changed inside the stadium. From the main entrance there was a ten minute walk to the cast reception area where our photo ID was again scanned into the security system. After collecting a in ear radio set and a packed lunch we moved through the reception area to the stadium itself.
Just like at Dagenham it took a while for the whole cast group to assemble so we took seats and waited. At the stadium we saw for real the opening scene that we had been shown in the model some weeks before. It was England's green and pleasant land it looked fantastic. Our job was to wreck it. Apart from the technical crew, builders and other VIPs we were amongst the first people to see the stage set up as it would be on the night of the 2012 Olympic Opening ceremony. From time to time light aircraft would fly circles overhead and these we realised were the press trying to get some pics of what we were doing. We waved, took the odd bow and some pictures began to appear in the press.
The rehearsals at the stadium gave us a chance to feel for the first time the size and weight of the props which we would be moving off and onto the stage. Some of these were very heavy indeed. The Mass team (Mass Movement) could also now better plan the flow of the thousands of people moving in many directions. On the night it wouldn't just be our cast group (working men and women) moving around the outer track we called the M25 but a thousand drummers, hundreds of warriors and several parades like the paper boys, the Nottinghill carnival, The Windrush, Chelsea pensioners, Pearly kings and Queens and amongst others the Beatles.
Just like at Dagenham the weather wasn't kind to us, it rained all the time. Rain proof ponchos were issued and we just got on with it. My first job was to bring on a guard rail that was to go round one of the trap doors from which a giant Chimney would appear The guard rails were heavy and took two people to lift. However most weeks there was someone missing from our group so with plenty of experience of lugging heavy Disco equipment around I normally carried one of the larger rails by myself. This meant my partner Peter could fill in for the person missing. I honestly loved this physical challenge especially when I had to lift the thing over my head to climb the stairs but I ended each rehearsal with an increasing number of bruises to my arms and shoulder. After placing the guard rails Peter and I was to then to grab some wild flowers to take off the FOP. The wild flowers were grown in a huge sheet with tightly knitted roots holding the the plants together and laid onto a plastic tarpaulin. By grabbing the tarpaulin a section could be dragged away to the black zone (the area out of camera view) and then loaded onto a cart. These rain soaked sheets of wild flowers were also extremely heavy, slippery and difficult to carry. Our aim was to do 3 trips on and off the FOP but this would take a gut busting effort to do it in the time allowed. Fortunately the guard rails were eventually redesigned and made from a far lighter material so these could now be carried by just one person so there was some reorganisation. I was tasked to focus on removing the wild flowers and I would enter the FOP much earlier. My partner Peter and I were moved to the front of our Vom (entrance to theatre) and where going to be one of the first of our cast group to enter the stadium on show night. Vom 1 was to the immediate left of the tor and where Kenneth Branagh gave the 'Be Not Afeard' speech. Although we had a better chance the wild flower meadow was right in the middle of the FOP just behind the little cottage so it was still going to be very difficult to clear this in time.
As the weeks in the stadium passed we got to see more of the technical aspects to the show and occasionally caught a glimpse of what the other sections were doing. One morning we practiced our whistling as this was in part of the show called poppies and was to honor the fallen of all wars. Considering what this section of the show was about our whistling in the vast empty stadium was so emotional charged I wasn't the only one to say that it had made my hair on the back of my head stand on end. On the night I didn't whistle as things didn't go to plan. The poppy moment happened about half way through our sequence and I had already carried my first lot of wild flowers off the FOP on my own and my partner Peter and I managed two pieces on our second trip, I just didn't have the puff.
One night we were asked to stay late for some sound recording, we had to do a lot of shouting, these shouts became part of the soundtrack. Another late rehearsal was when the pyrotechnics team fired up the ring for the first time and we became the first to see the shower of fireworks that would rain down into the Olympic stadium. We were there to see the chimneys being raised for the first time and the concealed ring was lifted and joined with 4 more to form the olympic symbol.
To continue reading Jim's London 2012 adventure click 2012 Olympic Rehearsal.