Al and Marsha's Journal
This is the story of the amazing adventures
In the beginning....
In about October, 2007 Marsha and I decided to apply to be volunteers for the Olympics. A few weeks later we saw on the Vancouver2010 web site that they were looking for "Pre-games Volunteers" so we applied for that too.
In very short order we were notified that we should come to Vanoc headquarters building near First and Boundary for an "orientation" session. So we did.
It was a strange sort of group interview. There were about twelve of us there and a couple of bouncy bright young ladies came into the room and began a very programmed discussion/test/interview for the whole day with us. During the morning there was an RCMP guy there who took our security clearance forms.
As it turned out it was really about seeing how attuned we all were to the concept of customer service and how good we were at working as part of a team. All of the little tests and scenarios we were given were looking at those aspects. I guess we "passed" because very shortly after that we were given our assignments. Marsha and I had asked (very wisely as turned out. More on that later) to be assigned to the same task, and we were.
On February 12, 2008, two years to the day before the start of the Olympics Vanoc turned on the phone lines at their Volunteer Information Center (VIC) at the headquarters building and Marsha and I had both been chosen to be part of the volunteer group to take these calls and to answer questions from volunteers who had applied, or who were wanting to apply.
For the next year and eight months we worked at the VIC either one or two full days each week taking calls from all over the world, but mostly from BC and Canada. It is impossible to describe the huge range of questions and types of people we encountered during those months. It ranged from really eager smart folks to really eager dolts, and everything in between.
About six months into the task Vanoc figured out that they were not going to be able to personally interview everyone, locally as well as from other places so we started doing phone interviews. It started with Out of Province Interviews. OOPIs in the internal jargon. Of course, we were calling them during the day (the VIC was open from 9:00 to 5:00 Monday to Friday) exactly when most people were at work. I could never figure out why they didn't go from 9:00 - 9:00 so as to enable us to speak to people in other time zones more readily. They didn't so that added a lot of calling and leaving messages.
The thing I detested (yes... detested) most of our time at the VIC were the phone interviews. Mostly I was not happy with a few of the questions on the interview form which were entirely subjective in nature and were essentially nonsense and which could serve no valuable purpose in the vetting process.
An example ( actual example from memory):
"Please describe a situation where you handled more than one thing at a time and how you did it". It was embarrassing to ask this kind of question to, say, an RCMP officer who was responsible for the Northern half of Manitoba. There were several of this type of question.
During that time we worked with a number of really neat folks, some of whom we were to encounter later during the Olympics themselves. If you watched the closing ceremonies you may have seen one bit where four "Blue Jacket" (we called ourselves Smerfs) volunteers were brought onto the stage to be recognized on all of our behalf's. The one in the mobile wheelchair was with us at the VIC (I think he worked there every day) and I had the pleasure of working with him on a few of my tasks preparing for the opening and closing ceremonies. His name is Bet and he is the most cheerful, life affirming person you would ever meet. We really loved him and I am going to try to track him down so that we can keep in touch.
In about October (actually on October 31st) we had been summoned to the Massey theatre in New Westminster to attend a mass indoctrination and to be photographed, etc for our ID cards for the Games Time assignments. It was at this event that we found out we had both been assigned to Ceremonies. This is what we has asked for and were very pleased.
Shortly afterwards we got the first of a gazillion emails we would receive from the staff for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and found out that we were in the Props department. At that stage we had no clue what that meant, but we went along for the ride. What a ride!
The email was to invite us to our detailed indoctrination and to receive our photo id's. This was to take place at the Compound, which was the tent city built across Pacific Boulevard from BC Place.
The large tent on the right contained a lecture area, a lunchroom for cast, a lunch room for staff and volunteers, a wardrobe fitting section, a small rehearsal hall and at the back a workshop and storage area for the props department, i.e. us and 180 other folks.
The large tent on the left is the rehearsal tent with an almost full size replica of the stage in BC place complete with the same type of floor and grid marks for the cast to use. The largest number of cast we rehearsed with in this tent were 600, one half of a Closing Ceremony segment of 1,200 high school kids with snowboards. In case you haven't guessed, the snowboards were the props. More later.
I should point out here that during any time we were in the compound or the stadium we were absolutely forbidden to have a camera or to take pictures with our phone. We know that several tried and lost their jobs because of it. In addition, as you can imagine, secrecy was a BIG deal wherever we went. We had to pledge never to discuss ANYTHING we saw or heard with anyone except the folks we were working directly with. This was the reason Marsha and I had made a wise choice in trying to stick to the same jobs, at least we could talk to each other about everything we were involved in. Some of the others were getting barraged every day from kids, husbands and work mates to talk about it, but as far as I could tell no one did. It was quite amazing how little of the ceremony features would leak out. They were so paranoid about secrecy that when we were transporting our props from the storage containers in the yard or the workshop to the rehearsal tent we had to cover them with tarps. The folks on the balconies of the apartments you can see in the picture were often outside watching. Of course, they could hear the music which accompanied the rehearsals.
Gradually as time went by we were able to pick up bits and pieces of what was going on beyond our little roles. The live "talent" did not show up at any rehearsals until just a couple of weeks before the events, they were always represented by stand-ins at earlier rehearsals. Once they started to actually play recorded versions of the music during rehearsals we could make pretty good guesses as to who the performer was to be. We (Marsha and I) also had an "inside" source of information who shall remain nameless, but we kept what we had learned to ourselves.
Preparing for the ceremonies
In early November we began our ceremonies work. Actually my first shift was to help build wooden "props" to be used in place of the real "big props" of the Closing Ceremony, i.e. beavers, moose (meese?), Mounties, hockey players and a goalie. The next shift both of us were working was the first rehearsal of the fiddlers and the tappers for the "Rhythms of the Fall" segment of the Opening Ceremony (OC). The first group was 18 fiddlers and 18 tappers (dancers) who were just one section of the 90 fiddlers and 90 tappers who would be performing together at the OC. There was a choreographer there from Montreal and a half dozen young dancers who would act as "Chories" (short for choreographers) and would assist and guide the performers. This rehearsal took place in the small rehearsal hall in the multi-use tent in the picture above.
When this group started to learn the first bit of the first part of their routine Marsha and I were a little non-plussed at how inept some of them were. However as the evening wore on most (not all) of them picked up the routine and became more and more adept as they practiced. There were a few trained dancers among them, but some were newbies.
As we went along with the fiddlers and tappers it soon became clear that both of us would end up being on the Fiddle Team, and that is what happened.
One of the tasks I was involved in at the props workshop was dealing with the 100 pairs of rollerblade skates to be used in the OC. The first task was to unpack them from their boxes, remove "stuff" which wasn't needed, record the size, label plastic bags to hold them with the size, stuff the skates in the bags and hang them on racks. Not exactly rocket science, but necessary. As it turned out the skates arrived with the wheels being the wrong colour. A few days later a group of us were assigned to remove the wheels (800 of them), and then I had the task of removing wheel bearings from all 800 of the original wheels. These would be installed on the new wheels of the correct colour to then be attached to the skates. There was a fair bit of tedious work of that sort involved in getting all of the props into show condition.
From November through mid-January the fiddlers used wooden replicas of the fiddles. The actual real fiddles arrived in December and a large amount of volunteer effort was put into making them look old and well used. Both of us thought that this was a waste of time as no one in the audience would see them that closely. This was true, as it turned out but it was a clue as to how meticulous David Atkins and his staff were about the minutest details. It was astonishing how far they went, but as a result the whole of the presentation was more impressive and professional because of it. David and most of his staff were Australian, as were many volunteers. They had worked at the ceremonies at the Sydney games and all had lots of experience. At one point I had heard so many Australian accents I asked one the choreographers if there was anybody left in Australia.
Once we moved most of the rehearsals into the stadium, which was now ready to be used, we started using the real props. The Field of Play (FOP) which one would normally call the stage was in place as were almost all of the lighting, sound, video systems and the myriad of little bits that we had no idea about.
We soon evolved into a steady group of six volunteers who would be responsible for delivering the fiddles to the fiddlers during rehearsals and at the actual opening. We also had to retrieve them after the rehearsal. For the first while, right up to the last week, we did this up on the FOP. During the later dress rehearsals we did our distribution and retrieval from under the stage, which had been built up twelve feet from the floor of the stadium to allow for all the people and equipment that was down there. We also had the job of repairing the fiddles if they broke or got damaged during rehearsals. This was mostly done by one of our group who had violin training.
The Fiddle Team under the FOP and all ready for the big event!!!! Actually, at this moment we were enjoying an apple cake which Marsha made for the team.
The reason we were doing our task there is because the cast members involved in many of the parts of the OC entered the FOP via one or more of the three access stairways located on the FOP floor around the centre stages (the two round bits which rose up during the ceremonies). As they walked down the passage to their starting positions we were stationed there to hand out the fiddles and bows, after which we had to hustle and move our fiddle bins out into the ring road under the seats to retrieve the fiddles as the cast came off the FOP.
This is some of the cast of Fiddlers and Tappers coming by under the stage to pick up the fiddles and bows for their turn on the FOP
One of the best moments in our whole experience occurred during the last week of dress rehearsals at our den under the stage. As I mentioned, during the last three or four dress rehearsals, and at the OC, the heavy duty talent were actually performing and there were no more stand-ins.
If you saw the OC you might remember that Bryan Adams and Nellie Furtado came up onto the stage from the centre to sing their song together. This meant that they had to pass right by us under the FOP on the way to and from the stairway. During rehearsals Bryan Adams, who was much more congenial and friendly than Nellie, would ask us on the way back from the FOP after singing whether we had any champagne hidden in our fiddle carts. He did this about three times and we always apologized for not accommodating him.
Needless to say, this gave us an idea and for the actual OC one of our group (actually our Supervisor) snuck in a bottle of champagne and some plastic wine glasses. After the two of them had gone past and were up on the FOP singing we laid a champagne bar on top of one of our bins, and when they came trooping back after singing and rounded the corner we were ready with champagne glasses in hand. Andros, our supervisor had two glasses and said to them, "You've asked for champagne so here it is." and then handed each of them a glass. They both thought this was great and we all spent a couple of minutes together sipping champagne, clinking glasses and making toasts. Everyone seemed to enjoy the little joke (even Nellie's giant bodyguard (see picture below) had a big smile). And on they went. It was a lot of fun and we're all very glad we did it.
At the OC we had a little surprise for the fiddlers. At end of the Rhythms of the Fall sequence after they had finished fiddling they went straight to the West Airlock at the stadium to cool down a bit and then the airlock opened to let them go back to the rehearsal tent across Pacific Boulevard to get out of their costumes and head home.
Previously at this point in the airlock they would hand us back their fiddles, but while they were performing at the OC we piled up the cases which the fiddles had come in in the first place, and as they came into the airlock we handed them a case and said, "This time you can keep the fiddle, it's yours". They were very surprised and excited and we had a good time doing that. Many of the cast thanked us for looking after them all this time.
At that point our only remaining task for the OC was to take the empty carts back to our storage area, sign out, and we were done.
During the period of time we were working at Ceremonies I did a variety of other tasks related to props. The most involved of these came about because I made an offhand reply to a question from the head Props guy that I was somewhat adept at soldering and wiring. This turned into a major task for me, on top of the rehearsals and fiddles. They asked me to help out at a small department in the Tech section who were responsible for all of the costumes and props which would have LED lights on them during the OC and CC. So I worked twice a week in a little workshop tucked in behind the wardrobe department making up wiring/lighting harnesses and attaching them onto a variety of costumes. It was hard work but I enjoyed it. This was one of the places where I worked side by side with Bet (mentioned above). One day we were attaching lighting to the white costumes worn in one of the early numbers and the costumes were hung on racks. This meant that parts of the costumes were above eye level. When Bet got to this point he simply pressed a lever on his motorized chair and it rose up about four feet. Everybody in the place was taken aback by that, and Bet was very amused. "This is one advantage I have over all of you!!!" he laughed.
Following are pictures from our experiences both before and during the Opening Ceremony. I won't bore you further with an extensive narrative but just with simple comments. Many of these were taken by me (only when it was allowed) and the rest by others who posted them on our Ceremonies Volunteers page on Facebook (plus some spectacular ones I "borrowed" from the internet). All of the very small pictures are from Facebook.
The trough full of video/audio and pyrotechnic cabling on opening day
Smerfs getting audience packages onto 55,000 seats. Each seat
Smerfs watching rehearsals
The "Protocol Stage" ready to go.
By the way!!! Did you know that in stadiums the exits are called "Vomitories" I'm NOT kidding! The one above was known as Vom 4. There were six altogether, a large one at each end, and smaller ones in each corner. Needless to say we all wanted to know where the name came from. One web site we looked it up on said it started in Roman times to refer to the exits at coliseums. The word meant something like "speedy exit". Hmmmmmm?
Marsha with our supervisor/props volunteer coordinator Christine. She
was one of
Part of the Fiddle Team fiddling around at BC Place
Inspecting a maple leaf (Rhythm of the Fall). The others can
The flags. At the second last dress rehearsal for the OC they
The Maple Leafs on their way to Vom 4 for the cast
A close-up of the bows used by the fiddlers with the little boxes and lights
The view of the stadium from the ring road at the bottom of the
And so it begins!!!
Rhythm of the Fall (the Fiddlers and Tappers section)
The opening part of the Rhythm of the Falls. It was not explained but the
The whole Rhythm of the Fall cast. 206 Fiddlers and Tappers including the "Hero" fiddlers and tappers.
Joni Mitchell singing, and this young man (from Montreal) flying over the prairies
Rick Hansen beginning the Cauldron lighting ceremony - very dramatic
Putting the maple leafs away after the OC
One of the most spectacular parts of the OC was at the very beginning when
The Hymn to the North. The white costumes in
k.d. Lang - If you didn't see it or hear it, there is no way I can explain how it was.....
The OC came off almost perfectly, except for the well known glitch with one of the cauldron legs. I had personally seen these open and close innumerable times over the weeks of rehearsals, and of course they were the same mechanisms and forms used for the four totems which rose at the beginning of the OC.
As you might expect, there are interesting back stage happenings associated with situations like that. All of the cast, most of the stage crew and few props folks (including me) had FM receivers with iPod ear pieces through which the directors could tell cast and crew what was happening, actually live directing on the fly. When the fourth arm didn't rise the director (who is a genius in my opinion) told everyone via these receivers to hold tight. There ensued about forty-five seconds of discussion behind the scenes about what to do next. At that point Drew (the director) turned on his mike and said something like "That was the longest forty-five seconds of my life!!!" No kidding!!! He then instructed the people with the torches, Wayne Gretsky, Steve Nash and Nancy Green to light the arms. Catriona Le May Doan was assigned to the one that wasn't there so they told her to just stand where she was. It turned out (according to rumour) that the decision was made because of the fact that the torches being held by the four of them had only about fifteen seconds of fuel left.
Even that glitch added drama to the OC and all in all it was a most amazing presentation. It had extra meaning for us because we had been there for the whole thing and watched it evolve from a shaky and unimagined start to a whole show of brilliant style and showmanship. Of course we are biased but I have only spoken to one person who didn't like it (called it tacky). I don't know what planet that person is from but he needs to loosen up and enjoy what's great and brilliant. Another friend called it the best of its kind he had ever seen in his life. Go know!!
During the rehearsal period at BC Place we worked many shifts of eight, ten, twelve hours and during those times we were given meal vouchers. These allowed us to get a boxed lunch containing a sandwich (made daily by the Bread Garden), an apple, a granola bar and a drink. I can tell you that we very quickly became good and sick of this free lunch and it started to become a bit of a joke. Actually the sandwiches were very good, the problem was that there was a very limited variety.......
As an aside, our grandson Jaiden got VERY involved in the games,
The Closing Ceremonies
We began rehearsals for the Closing Ceremonies (CC) in November simultaneously with the Opening Ceremonies rehearsals. As I mentioned above my first task as a member of the Ceremonies team was to help build some of the "Big Prop" replicas to be used for rehearsals for the Made In Canada sequence for the CC at the Compound rehearsal tent until they moved to BC Place and started using the real props.
Whenever there was a rehearsal for the Made in Canada section it was all hands on deck because there were so many props and they were all big. Mounties, Beavers, Moose, Hockey Players, etc. They all required considerable handling, and when we switched from the replica versions we had built to the real ones the requirement for people became even greater. The real Beavers required a minimum of four people to handle, and the flying Moose at least ten.
Another section which in a different way was a huge task was the one at the very beginning of the CC - 1,200 teenagers with mock snowboards on the FOP performing complicated routines with their boards.
The early rehearsals began with small groups which gradually became larger until we got to the largest group we could handle in the rehearsal tent, 600, one half of the eventual total. We did not get all 1,200 together until we were able to use the FOP in BC Place. We were part of the group responsible for distributing the snowboards at the beginning of each rehearsal and then retrieving them at the end, and some times a couple of times per rehearsal. One major twist to all of this was that each kid had to have a specific board. Each board had a number which matched the number on the rehearsal bibs each cast member wore. On each board was a small "cheat sheet" outlining where each person had to be for each of the formations. No two cheat sheets were the same. If a cast member got the wrong board things would get chaotic quickly. This was a difficult task for us, and the director of this section was very hard nosed about what he wanted. At the end we had to get all 1,200 distributed in 2 minutes! And we did.
The boards were in 20 bins on wheels and each bin held 60 boards. The pictures below show the bins lined up in the rehearsal hall awaiting the barrage of kids coming to get them. There were four sets of five bins, each set a different colour and each labeled with a letter of the alphabet.
Before the rehearsal started we unloaded the boards onto the floor in piles of thirty numbered from the lowest on top to the highest at the bottom, and each cast member would pick up his/her board in order. The cast got to know quite quickly which bin their snowboard was in and once they learned how to line up in numeric order things went quite smoothly. Of course, if one of the cast was missing we had to be watchful so that the cast did not pick up the boards out of sequence. It was quite a hair raising experience until we got used to it.
Eventually the team on the snowboard props was settled at twenty of us, and I
was asked to be one of two
The snowboard props team.
The cast of the snowboard section were an enthusiastic crowd and for the most part were very hard working. One day in the rehearsal hall during a rest break the director called out the bib numbers of six cast members and asked them to stand. He then said something like this: "You are fired! Take your boards to the prop people and leave immediately. We have been watching you for quite a while and all you do is fool around. You are dragging down the rest of these kids who want to do it right." As you can imagine you could have heard a pin drop. The six turned in their boards and left the room. There was a pep talk from the director after this, including a loudly shouted commitment to the task ahead from the remaining 594 kids. After this the rehearsal was taken over by an assistant and the director left the rehearsal hall. About ten minutes later each of the fired kids straggled back in one at a time, retrieved their boards and got back into position.
I suspect that the director had a little talk with each one and elicited a promise to do better. There is no way they would have been allowed back without that. It was a great object lesson for all of the cast, but boy what a hard nosed guy he is!
As for the Made in Canada segment and the Big Props, being assigned to Beaver #1's team meant that we were responsible for moving the deflated beaver on its cart from the storage area to VOM 4 and waiting there until we were given the order to inflate. We were followed by beavers 2 and 3 (three more went around the stadium on the ring road to VOM1) and two of the four moose.
There were four people assigned to each Beaver. One had the responsibility of turning on the battery operated fan/blowers built into each cart to inflate the beaver and we all did our bit to make sure they inflated properly. The order to "Inflate your beavers!" was given about eight minutes before they were to go onto the FOP. As they took five to six minutes to inflate properly this left us with little extra time. At the right time we maneuvered our fully inflated beaver out to the bottom of VOM 4's ramp and turned it over to the wranglers, who were dressed as caricatures of lumber jacks, and they wheeled them up the ramp and onto the FOP for their segment. Following the beavers were two giant moose at each VOM which were always inflated (with helium so that they would float in mid air) and had to be wrangled from storage to the two VOMs in that condition.
When the beavers came off of the FOP at the end of the segment we had to grab them from the wranglers, move them away from the ramp to allow the others to exit, and start them deflating, all at the same time. After deflating we then moved them back to the storage area.
As you can imagine, this was a very frenetic activity, but we all managed to pull it off at the dress rehearsals and at the CC.
Other teams had responsibility for the Voyageur Canoes, the Sochi Zorbs, the travelling hat with Michael Buble on top of it, etc. As far as I know everyone did their job and it went off very smoothly.
For me, the highlight of the CC was at the very beginning when an unannounced spoof of the OC glitch happened. They deliberately left the fourth cauldron arm down with the hatch in the floor open. As the ceremony started there were sparks flying from this opening, followed by a stuffed toy chicken (presumably the cause of the sparks) and then by a mime who climbed out of the opening onto the stage. The mime than proceeded to plug together two large cables lying on the FOP near the opening, causing another flash of sparks. He threw the plugs down on the floor, picked up an imaginary rope and started hauling the reluctant arm into position. While he was doing this a hatch opened near him on the floor and Catroina Le May Doan rose up from below, carrying an Olympic torch and looking bewildered about where she was. The mime pointed at the base of the arm now in its proper place and she walked over and lit it with her torch. If you remember, she was the one at the OC who had to stand there on the FOP with her torch because she didn't have a cauldron arm to light.
The audience went absolutely nuts over that little piece and roared their approval. Not even the TV commentators knew this was to happen. In my view the person who thought that up should get a medal.
We had one more little side adventure during this time. All the time between the OC and the CC we were heavily engaged in rehearsals, mostly at the stadium in the mornings. In the evenings at BC Place most nights there were victory celebrations which included handing out medals for the day's events and live entertainment of various kinds.
On the last victory ceremony at BC Place Marsha and I were there (in our volunteer uniforms... i.e. smerfs) because Marsha is a big fan of the Newfoundland band Great Big Sea, and this was their night. The FOP for these concerts was arranged so that the area in front of the stage was a "Mosh Pit" where enthusiastic fans could gather up close and proceed to go nuts. Admittance to this area was by ticket or invitation. Some of the smerfs walked around looking for young enthusiastic folks and offered them entry passes to the Mosh Pit. When the band started the place was full and it turned into one large love fest. The band was great and the audience enthusiastic.
Do you think Marsha is having a good time!
As with the OC following are some pictures of the CC along with short comments where appropriate.
The mime creating more sparks trying to raise the cauldron arm.
Deflated Mounties awaiting their turn
Voyageur Canoes and Moose in waiting
A Moose and some Beaver carts waiting for their turn.
The colourful maple leafs (called Flanges for some reason) which a bunch
Marsha participating in the snow tossing task at BC Place
A pyro technician hooking up fireworks for the CC.
Steaming the country flags for the big show.....
All ready to go.....
The whole panorama of Closing Ceremonies at BC Place - what a sight!!!
The 1,200 snowboard kids in the rehearsal hall in costume and waiting to go
Makeup time..... this is another example of being meticulous about detail....
how many in the
These are scenes in the rehearsal hall during the Canadian/US Gold Medal game
with the kids
Can you guess what they are celebrating? A few seconds later they all started singing O Canada spontaneously.
The timing of this win could not have been better. Within minutes they, in their fired up state went to the stadium to get ready to go on.
Once inside the stadium all 1,200 of them lined up starting at
These kids are excited because they, and us, had an advantage
The athletes came right by us all, and the snowboard cast were
After the kids went onstage to do their bit, the athletes made their
As soon as the Zorbs went up the ramp we positioned our beaver carts beside
the ramp at VOM 4 with the Moose behind.
By then all of the other segment casts were in the ring road
Beaver crews waiting to inflate (the Beaver that is).
Marsha doing her bit moving the "canoes" to the VOMs for the show.
INFLATE YOUR BEAVERS!!!
Here we go..... 1200 kids running onto the FOP to start the CC.... Wow!
Imagine - 1,200 teenagers all lined up properly, great kids!
First, the Hockey Players, then the Voyageurs, then the Beavers, then the Moose
A Moose on its way onto the FOP - these and the Beavers were a VERY tight fit.
Made in Canada as seen on the ring road TV screens (from nearest to farthest) -
Michael Buble on his moving hat on the way to the FOP
Some small shots from other segments. Our twelve hundred kids are arrayed around the Cauldron below.
The whole CC props crew plus one Mountie.
So..... this not so brief outline of our Olympic experience is done, as is the adventure. As I am sure I have said a hundred times, it was, for both Marsha and me an experience of a lifetime. We would do it again at the drop of a hat, and as I have said we are hoping to volunteer in 2014 in Suchi, Russia.
For those who bah-humbugged, or who left town, or hid during these Olympics I can only say...... You missed the greatest party in our history, and a chance to be a part of a never to be repeated heart warming moment. With Glowing Hearts indeed!
Al & Marsha
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