Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Paralympics - A Personal Experience - Dev Chatterjea

As everyone knows, the Paralympics was an major success, and the high achievement of the athletes and people involved in the event i.e. all staff and volunteers (games makers and ceremony volunteers) is well known. To stage an event in such epic proportions was a major task. As you probably have guessed I participated as a volunteer in the opening ceremony and as a Games Maker. To participate in such an event was a major and enjoyable moment. Before I start talking about my experience there is one point that should mention. All these athletes are the best in their fields. It would not be logical to assume that all people with various disabilities should be able to do such feats, and so should be judged by their own capabilities.

As a lead up to the games we had a series of training events. Some of the training would last 9 hours or more. This is especially for the ceremony where we had to train for eight or nine hours straight for four days in a row.  
All images: Dev Chatterjea
As a Games Maker an average day there would be two shifts in the morning, 6 am to 3.30pm and the evening shift would be from 4pm to 12pm each day.  I used to do the morning shift which meant leaving home at 4.45 am and reaching there by 6am, followed by a group meeting next to the Aquatics Centre at 6.30. During one of these meetings we would get to know what’s going on for the day and end with doing the hoke cokey and the Mexican wave including an annual wave to the CCTV cameras.  This may seem a strange thing to do but it was a way of getting us in the mood for the day.

There was one occasion where I was asked to work at the world square. This area was known as the rush hour zone and aptly named the “congestion zone”. This is where all outdoor entertainment would occur. A standard morning would start with us in our allocated areas ready to start, some lively music. At this point we would have to direct large crowds, well over 30 people, to their destinations. This “mad rush” as one staff member put it would occur many times a day. During this time you would get some strange questions such as: Can my daughter throw fairy dust on the athletes? Which way is the main stadium? When they were looking straight at it. On a sobering note a young family came up to me and said they dreamed they would one day see something like this and they liked what we were doing.

One day on the Main entrance at Stratford Gate which was where the mad rush would happen. Working at the gates would mean standing for long periods of time. One morning at the Stratford Gate we were as usual scanning tickets, a group of ecstatic people all wearing clothes with the Union Jack flags, including wigs came through. As normal we scanned their tickets. Towards the end a couple came in wearing the flag clothes but the other way round. The man who was wearing the dress danced in screaming I am Miss UK. You could imagine our reaction to seeing this!

A month before the Games Makers started work, we started the rehearsals for the opening ceremony. This was some feat because most of us had not performed on stage for years let alone on a global stage of more than a 2.5 billion people. The first two rehearsals started at a studio in west London were we got our accreditation, our roles in the ceremony and numbers. In my case I was a marshal. A marshal is one of a group of people who dance, guide and keep the athletes happy. On the face of it it seems very easy, but everything is done to the second and highly timed as well as lot of rehearsals.

I would find this out when the rehearsals moved to a large warehouse in Daganham, on the outskirts of London. The day would start at 11pm with several bendy busses taking over 900 performers to a rather remote warehouse. This is where the hole rehearsals was done to scale and timing. We were put to our paces such as entering the stadium in order, dancing on the spot and creating the shaad (the Paralympics flag). This was repeated over several times and each time faster. The day would end at 7pm and we would be sent to the stations by busses.  This type of rehearsal would continue through the weekend and on to Monday in rather warm summer weather. 

Around five days before the start of the opening ceremony our rehearsal moved to the stadium. It wasn’t until then that it occurred to myself and other performers how immense was the scale of what we were going to do. I remember walking on to the center of the stadium seeing all the props, the globe and the lighting men working on the set, and thinking to myself I am really doing this!

On the Sunday, which we called the test day, we had our dress rehearsals. This is where everyone involved in the show, from the performers, camera men, elections, flag bearers and us the marshals, came together to see how it would pan-out in full “show mode”. This is when we got our uniforms, those blue, yellow, orange coloured uniforms which was the same colour as the stage floor. Doing the full dress rehearsals made it more real.

On the day of the of the Opening Ceremony (or aptly named Show day) everyone came in a good six hours before the start. As we were getting ready and doing a quick rehearsal I could sense the excitement of  what was going to happen. There was also a mad rush to get our uniforms ready. 
Unfortunately the costume department had got all the marshals’ uniforms, but some were missing. Also, some were incredibly small and tight, and some were too big. 

Around about 7pm the audience started to enter the stadium area. From our vantage point we could see a gigantic heard of people coming in from Stratford Gate. Rather than panic, which is a commonly known reaction, there was a rather overwhelming feeling of excitement and electricity in our ready area. As the show time got closer each group were called out one by one, and each time we all got even more excited.

Finally our turn came. One of the staff called our groups’ name and the whole room burst into deafening scream with everyone including me screaming with excitement. Within seconds a staff member took us outside to the noisy  thumping music coming from the stadium. As we waited marshals at the front started shouting “this is it guys”. And we walked on stage. The rest is history.

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