What goes into the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup? More than you'd think. Rebecca Kamm goes behind the scenes with some of the busy key players charged with bringing it all together
Spectacular ceremonies call for experienced event production companies to deal with all the innumerable, intricate details. The RWC opening and closing ceremonies have found just that in David Atkins Enterprises, a small yet experienced team of creative practitioners that includes artistic directors, designers, writers, producers and logistical services.
As the name implies, it's headed up by David Atkins himself. But make no mistake, this company's namesake doesn't just sit back and reap the rewards. He's as hands-on as they come, monitoring almost every single detail of the ceremony's progress and making sure it all runs to plan.
And Atkins should know about plans, having hatched them for the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, that of the Doha Asian games, and - more recently - the opening and closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
When we speak, he's just surfaced from a three-hour meeting with a television director, in which they dissected the best ways to film an event that predicts one billion viewers. No big deal.
Still, he's calm as he recounts all the wide-ranging responsibilities on his heaped plate: "I'm executive producer and also artistic director. I attend the rehearsals, work on projection, imagery, and all the scenic elements like the props - of which there are quite a few," he says. "We're monitoring those on a daily basis, looking at the final versions."
It doesn't stop there: "Tomorrow I'm in a recording session for the music. And we're just about to do a prototype testing of a big prop in a secret location very soon. Oh, and we have production meetings every few days with all the various departments. I'll be doing everything from meetings to rehearsals to testing equipment to sound, lighting and video."
The proof is in the pudding. At the end of our chat, Atkins darts off to yet another meeting. He won't take all the glory, though, quick to credit the global cast working around the clock to make it all happen: "Canada, the US, Ireland, the Middle East, the UK - we've got people from all over the globe preparing for the opening and closing ceremonies."
Orchestrating every single movement of more than 1000 volunteers, many of whom have never attempted more than a living room shuffle post-wine, must be a daunting task. Thankfully, the movers and shakers of the RWC Opening Ceremony are all being herded by one of the country's most experienced dancers and choreographers, Moss Patterson.
Director of Atamira Dance Company in his everyday life, Patterson's enthusiasm is marked, despite the obvious slog: "we're making it the most fantastic event for the World Cup," he says.
"It's been a process of auditioning thousands of people around the country. Everyone's given up their time; professional people, community people, people from executive boards putting on their shorts and shoes; and that's the most fantastic part about it. We get to work with people from all over New Zealand to create something special."
The opening ceremony goes for a full 25 minutes, and the whole thing is choreographed, he explains. "There's a constant layering of activity from start to finish, to create movement for the cast. Dance is a very important part of the show, but so are other movements; you need variety."
Patterson leads regular practices all over Auckland and throughout the week, but most take place on weekends to make an allowance for people's working lives. Closer to the opening there will be afternoon rehearsals. "The cast come in and wear a bib with a number on it and have an earpiece so they can hear what we're saying," he says. "This show's the biggest I've ever worked on. The artistic elements are incredible. What's amazing is what's been pulled together in such a short time. People have been kept inspired and that's what will bring this performance together."
Head of costume
Back in April, when most of us were just beginning to hear about the RWC opening and closing ceremonies, Jane Holland was already in discussions over the minutiae of costume design.
By July, her local workroom team ("a hive of activity and energy") had already begun to bring those designs to life for more than 1000 people. Which is a more complicated process than many might imagine: "In creating garments for each performer I consider how they will interact with each other, how they will look in the environment and how they will interface with choreography, design, lighting and projection," says Holland, who has a background in feature films and television. "When the costumes are complete, we do a fitting with every performer. The costumes are then altered and checked and ready for performance."
Some of the costumes will have a strong New Zealand "flavour", she says, while others are designed with movement, lighting and projection in mind. What's more, costumes have been designed for each different section of the ceremony.
"Fabrics and construction are the key to successful costumes," she says. "It's often a hunt to get the right thing, but worth it in the end. And the quality and speed of the work produced by my costume workroom team is amazing. They do beautiful work."
The 12-minute firework and lighting spectacular that will flow directly from the opening ceremony at Eden Park is called Opening Night. The creative force behind Opening Night is an events and production company called Inside Out Productions. And, in charge of both is a man by the name of Mike Mizrahi, the renowned New Zealand events maestro responsible for such happenings as the New Zealand millennium celebrations and Louis Vuitton's giant 150th birthday trunk.
Mizrahi's not resting on his reputation or laurels, though. His schedule's as packed as the celebrations he's busy planning: "Yesterday we drove to Karaka to have a meeting with members of Ngati Paoa tribe to ask if we could use their beautiful waka to feature in the show," he says.
"Today we climbed all over the Rapaki - a floating crane at the Maritime Museum that will play a significant role in the show. We discussed rigging, lighting, and special effects and worked out how to get the most out of the location and the shot."
It didn't stop there: "We then met with TV executives ... and discussed what could [potentially] go wrong with the live broadcast, looking at ways to mitigate any risks."
Afterwards, Mizrahi met with members of the waka party to look at how to cue them into position for the cameras. Back at the office, he dealt with fireworks logistics, working with Ports of Auckland to solve "loading issues".
As Mizrahi points out, it's a citywide show and comprehensive rehearsals would simply give the game away. Plus, the budget for doing something like the fireworks show twice would be stratospheric. All of which makes meticulous planning absolutely crucial: "We are literally shooting from the hip," he says.
"This is a really gutsy, creative collaboration; turning straw into gold. We've been working on this all year. It might seem impossible, but it's true!
"You would be amazed at what goes into these big jobs: the logistics, compliance, insurance, scheduling, budgeting, rigging. As they say, 10 per cent inspiration, 90 per cent perspiration."
Martin Van Teil
Under way right now are preparations for the biggest pyrotechnics display in New Zealand since the millennium, says RWC Opening Night pyrotechnician Martin Van Teil.
To narrow it down some, that's 7000 pyrotechnic effects, courtesy of 3500kg of pyrotechnics and 14 tonnes of equipment.
Where on earth would you even start? On a pretty official level, apparently.
Rather than undisturbed tinkering with pretty colours and cool shapes, "the day-to-day is ensuring the paper logistics of this production are well communicated and comply with organisations like the Auckland Council, Fire Service, harbourmaster, coast guard, civil aviation, police, OSH, EPA, and DoC," says Van Teil.
Bureaucracy aside, the 12-minute display will be part of a combined music, lighting, flame and pyrotechnics display, and the fireworks expert is amped.
"We've designed a wide range with New Zealand-inspired themes, based around pohutukawa and kowhai flowers," he says, going on to explain we can look forward to huge aerial star shells, yellow cascading flowers, delayed bursts of green leaves, silver ponga trees and Kiwi forms in golden willows - and that's not the half of it.
It's a long road to firework nirvana: Van Teil has a PhD in chemistry, a B.Sc in chemistry and physics, and his experience with explosives goes back 30 years (you can thank his company Van Teil Pyrotechnics for most of Auckland's large fireworks displays).
The complexity of the RWC display demands such experience: as the crucial moments draw nearer, computer checks and "the programming of the thousands of cues required to choreograph fireworks to music" will take centre stage. Then, the ultimate prize: "showcasing New Zealand pyrotechnics globally."
4pm: Te Herenga Waka fleet arrival.
4.40pm: Dave Dobbyn and band at Queens Wharf.
5pm: Kaihoe procession and mass haka.
5.55pm: Mayoral welcome followed by haka.
6.10pm: The Finn Brothers concert headline act.
7.30pm: Opening Ceremony from Eden Park live on waterfront big screens.
8pm: Sound and Light Show.
8.15pm: Opening Match between New Zealand and Tonga live from Eden Park on waterfront big screens.
10.15pm: Live performances by Dane Rumble, Midnight Youth, Kora and DJ Manuel Bundy until Queens Wharf closes at 2am.
Who's Who Behind The Scenes
Opening Ceremony at Eden Park
David Atkins: Artistic Director/Executive Producer
Merryn Hughes: Producer
Robyn Rawstone: Director of design
Shona McCullagh: Director of choreography
Victoria Kelly: Director of music
Jon Baxter: AV content director
Michael Reid: Associate artistic director/producer
Drew Anthony: Associate artistic director Opening Night at the waterfront
Marie Adams and Mike Mizrahi: Event producers
Martin Van Tiel: Fireworks
Don McGlashan: Music Composer
David Eversfield: Lighting designer
Jason Durey: Special effects
Facts and figures
Operations: 40,000 glowsticks, 2000m of safety tape, 5000 ponchos and 40 litres of sunscreen
Costumes: 8000 blades of flax, 9.5km of silk
Performers: 19 nationalities, with the Auckland Philharmonia, pipe bands, marching girls, fire poi and flame throwers, drummers, kapa haka, drag queens, Chinese dragons and more