Rio 2016 Olympics: What Goes Into Producing an Opening Ceremony

Olympic Stadium
Olympic Stadium at Olympic Park, London, July 27, 2012. Producer Tracey Seaward tells Newsweek what goes into producing an Olympic opening ceremony. Jamie Squire/Getty

Four years ago, Tracey Seaward sat alongside partner Mark Tildesley and colleague Stephen Daldry late at night with tears in her eyes as she watched a rerun of the biggest show on earth.

The trio had been too busy coordinating with their team at the Olympic Stadium earlier in the evening to truly take in the success of the opening ceremony of London 2012, the biggest project of their careers.

Danny Boyle, the British film director, had charged Seaward with producing a show that would be watched by 900 million people. "I'd worked with Danny Boyle previously and we had been discussing elements of the show for a while —and then he asked if I would like a 'bigger role' in the show," Seaward tells Newsweek. "It was a great honor to be involved. I've always loved the Olympics."

The task was monumental. Seaward describes the effort that went into planning the ceremony as "unquantifiable" with countless hours and thousands of volunteers making it possible.

Following Beijing's extravagance in 2008 was always going to be a challenge, but the team studied previous ceremonies and outlined key elements they wanted to include.

"Sydney [in 2000] was much more akin to the type of ceremony we were going for than say, Beijing," Seaward said. "You can't compare them because each ceremony is influenced so, so much by the character of the host nation.

"The ceremony for 2012 was about the people, for the people and made with the people. It was never our intention to compete with the scale of Beijing, but rather focus on our unique cultural legacy, the importance of the welfare state and, of course, the NHS."

From Monty Python to Eastenders, the London Underground to the industrial revolution, and Mr Bean to Mr Bond, the four-hour ceremony aimed to encapsulate all that represented Great Britain. And now it's the turn of Rio.

Seaward will, of course, be one of the millions of spectators this time round. But asked how she would have approached the ceremony, she said: "Brazil is such a big, vibrant and multicultural country, one could express its character in countless ways. Rio's artistic director, Fernando Meirelles, with whom I worked on The Constant Gardener, is no stranger to creatively articulating the vitality and exuberance.

"This year more than ever I would hope the ceremony can address the geopolitical concerns facing the world today. I'm an admirer of the extraordinary Brazilian environmental politician and activist Marina Silva, who carried the Olympic flag in 2012. The protection of the Amazon is central to not only its inhabitants but the welfare of the planet as a whole."

With the world preparing to watch as Rio sets the tone for the 27th Olympic Games, the importance of opening ceremonies appears to grow ever greater.

"The Olympic ceremony reflects the host nation's cultural history, its story and idiosyncrasies," Seaward says. "But more than that, it's about embracing the visiting nations and their collective identities.

"An opening ceremony is an artistic, human event; void of politics, division or cultural isolation. It's about [saying] welcome."