Anna Hughes: My role in the Paralympics opening ceremony

Posted on October 24, 2012

My journey to the 2012 London Paralympics opening and closing ceremonies took a year. From auditioning, to performing in the ceremonies, it proved a remarkable journey.

When the offer came, my role was to be an Athletes Marshall in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. At the first rehearsal, I was one of approximately 500 Athletes Marshalls. Wow! I immediately made friends with those next to me; which helped if I needed to nudge a friendly face and ask them to repeat the instructions for me. I had to get there early, to get as near the front as possible, so I could hear and see.

First, we worked on the Paralympics opening ceremony. We were issued with a numbered bib. Some mass dancing in lines started us off. Also, walking in lines and arches, getting to know your neighbour, and being referred to as a numbered section or job, plus using grid references. We had exercises in packing each other (as stand-in athletes) into seating areas. The men paraded and auditioned for roles as Athlete Escorts in the closing ceremony (to walk on with the flag bearer athletes from each nation).

We were taught a lot of simple dance sequences, which were given names, so that over the radio we would know what to do (“stand by for Get Set” for example). On a couple of days it was so hot, it felt punishing to effectively be doing an aerobics workout, but it had to be learnt, and they gave breaks and plenty of water. On the day of the opening ceremony though, rain threatened!

We had to get used to hearing instructions over radio headsets, using headphones that had in-ear pieces. This was the tricky part for me! I had no T loop setting on my hearing aids so I had to use a neck loop instead, so this meant a trip to the audiology repair clinic to get the T loop put on. Thankfully, they can put T loop on microphone and surround, so you can also hear around you (I need it).

They also let me borrow a pair of direct input shoes for my hearing aids, as an alternative to try. To use them, the labels on my hearing aids were changed for ones with metal strips on. The direct input shoes clipped onto the bottom of the hearing aid and the lead plugged into the radios we were using. These were fantastic! One of those things you wonder why you’ve never discovered them before!

I found the whole experience a useful exercise in listening, following instructions on the radio from someone I couldn’t see (as the show took shape the Director of Mass Choreography sat up in a scaffolding tower or communications box). I mostly rely on the visual, so it was a challenge to trust my unreliable ears! Therefore, my Paralympics Ceremonies journey was one of hearing and communication too.

The opening ceremony went fantastically well and thankfully without rain. I was in the first human wall of dancing Marshalls as the Athletes entered the stadium. The look of joy and wonder on their faces was unforgettable! Everyone joining in singing “I Am What I Am,” at the end felt like a massive party. The costume was a multicoloured football shirt, with black trousers, purple sun visor and pink trainers. When the filming stopped, big groups of athletes and performers all wanted to take photos at the cauldron, and the stage. I didn’t want to leave, but needed to make sure I caught the train. Some of my friends have since said they spotted me on the TV, and it seemed like I had been dancing for hours!

After a brief recovery, rehearsals for the closing ceremony took shape. Again the weather turned hot! We would be helping the athletes find seats before the show, in mixed seating areas. There were also wristbands to give them, which lit up in various colours when Coldplay performed. After seating athletes, some of us had to exit and come back on later, surrounding the winter, summer and sundial stage. The cue to return was the truck invasion; the entrance of the ex-military vehicles pimped to look like animals, birds and insects. I was to be exiting and returning, and was positioned near a giant grasshopper! We largely circled the stage, simply swaying or clapping, and protecting the gangways. There were a lot of professional dancers in the show, and it was great to see what they could do.

Another great show was put together. The Coldplay and Rihanna songs are still going round in my head! This time we had black hooded tops and white trousers for costume. The crowd cheering and waving when Team GB arrived created such a buzz and celebratory atmosphere.

Circling of the stage duties were mixed with some sitting on the grass beside the athletes seating areas. Sitting on the grass felt wonderfully relaxed, like at a festival. I needed to keep focused on the job, and not get lost in moment of the show! Again, the look of delight and pleasure on the faces of the athletes was unforgettable.

That sums it up, unforgettable!

Since childhood, Anna has harnessed a passion for writing and drama. Her career has mainly seen her take on roles in Schools and Hospitals. She has also worked with clients who have learning disabilities in their supported employment, as a support worker. She is a member of a local amateur dramatics company, and is a hearing aid user.

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