By Karen Hendricks, Festival PR/Marketing Director

Oh how I’ve missed the Olympics!  This week I am enjoying every moment, from the moving opening ceremonies, to the fascinating stories behind the athletes, the joy of their competitions, along with the trauma of their defeats.  The symbolism of the world being united for Olympic competition is so powerful.  If we could only capture the spirit of the Olympics and apply it to other areas of our daily lives, striving for excellence.

This was one of the themes brought out by Ric Birch, the featured speaker at the 2009 IFEA Convention held recently in Indianapolis.  (IFEA is the International Festivals & Events Association, of which the Gettysburg Festival is a member.)  This five-time producer of

The Olympic torch malfuntion

Olympic Ceremonies talked about the massive challenges undertaken when planning events of this magnitude.  I thought of him as I watched the recent Opening Ceremonies from Vancouver, especially when three of the four torches rose from the stadium.  The stubborn fourth torch malfunctioned but the show went on.  I could imagine the producers, stagehands, everyone and anyone behind-the-scenes doing all they could to desperately raise that fourth torch.  Despite the glitch, the evening was magnificent.

Just for the record, Ric Birch was not the producer for the Vancouver event.  His Olympic experiences included work on the ceremonies at LA (1984), Barcelona (1992), Sydney (2000), Torino (2006) and Beijing (2008).  He spoke, before hundreds of festival organizers from across the world this past September, about the mind-boggling amount of planning poured into Olympic-sized events.  The creative process stretches for months, until ideas are finally culled into production plans.

Synchronized Chinese drummers, Beijing's Opening Ceremonies

Then there’s the huge task of casting—locating the absolute perfect person for each of the hundreds upon thousands of talented people needed to stage the events.  At the Beijing Opening Ceremonies, remember all of the Chinese drummers who popped out of boxes, which then turned into drums, which they played in unison?  Birch talked about casting these hundreds of drummers, how he finally enlisted Chinese soldiers and made sure they were all the exact same height.  They burst out of their boxes, perfectly on cue, shocking and delighting the viewers.  Never mind the fact that they had been cooped up in those boxes for four hours prior to the ceremony, contortionists, in order to suddenly spring into action and provide a “wow factor.”  That they did!  (Birch also explained that the men had nothing to eat or drink for those four hours, and they wore diapers.  Yikes.)

And the goal of the opening ceremonies?  To evoke strong reactions and create lasting impressions, mainly through music and visuals; not speech.  They are created as a snapshot of culture at the time, Birch explained.  And that’s where we, as festival organizers, come in.  If we can hold these incredible Olympic moments up as shining examples, and weave them into the fabric of our own festivals, then we too can pass the torch of inspiration to others. 

An evening of jazz at the Festival Main Stage, June 08 - looks like an Olympic moment!

The complete 2010 Gettysburg Festival lineup will be announced soon—we hope the events will do exactly what Birch described:  evoke strong reactions and lasting impressions through snapshots of arts and culture, maybe even rekindling a bit of that Olympic spirit and inspiration.