It wasn’t just the Australian athletes who were winning medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. There were plenty of local business and event specialists who were putting in equal amounts of effort to make it one for the history books.

Moreton Hire, Norwest Productions, Howard & Sons Pyrotechnic Displays, Great Big Events and the team from Jack Morton were major players representing the Australian business events community at the XXI Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Moreton Hire delivered more than 500 marquees as the official Marquee and Temporary Structure supplier while Norwest Productions was engaged by Jack Morton to supply a comprehensive turnkey ceremonies audio system along with all required staff and design work.

Howard & Sons Pyrotechnic Displays provided pyrotechnics and special effects for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and also special effects for several sporting events. Sports presentation events were produced by Great Big Events.

The biggest single project in terms of size and scale – the Opening and Closing Ceremonies – were created and managed by Jack Morton Worldwide, with its Australian operation appointed as “Ceremonies Producer” early in 2016.

Their appointment, explains Jack Morton Opening & Closing Ceremonies project & artistic director, David Zolkwer, followed an extensive tender process that comprised a detailed Expression of Interest submission followed by an expansive written tender and two face-to-face interviews.

“We were appointed as the ‘Ceremonies Producer’ which meant providing a turnkey operation capable of delivering all the goods and services associated with all the key departments including creative, technical, operations, production, finance and business services, casting, accreditation and volunteers required to deliver two world-class ceremonies,” he told micenet.

Over 250 people were employed by Jack Morton Worldwide to deliver the ceremonies. In addition, over 3300 volunteers participated in the ceremonies – performing on stage and supporting behind the scenes. (Creating opportunities for members of the public to participate in such a large-scale and high profile event of such importance to a region is an important part of the legacy of these kind of events). In addition, more than 50 internships were created across all departments and hundreds more jobs were created by Jack Morton suppliers delivering everything required to produce the Ceremonies.

“Our team comprised a great mix of talents, many of whom had no prior ceremonies experience. When we were appointed, some of our competitors worked hard to cause a stir around the fact that an American company had been appointed. The fact is, Jack Morton has had a presence in Australia for decades (we produced the Ceremonies for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games) and contrary to spurious accusations about ‘flying in hundreds of staff’, over 95 per cent of our Ceremonies workforce were Australians, with two thirds of that workforce being engaged locally from the Gold Coast and the surrounding areas.

“Whilst we always embrace the opportunity to work with people from all places and cultures, on this occasion, less than five per cent of our team came from overseas – and most from Commonwealth countries.

“For the purposes of this project we opened a dedicated office on the Gold Coast to serve as the centre of operations for both the Jack Morton Ceremonies and Jack Morton Festival 2018 production team. Only a handful of people on the team were already full-time Jack Morton employees.”

Senior Jack Morton staffers, including Mr Zolkwer, lived and breathed the event for close to two years.

“Striving for authenticity is always at the heart of my creative process. The Ceremonies were born in Australia by an almost entirely Australian team. They had that Australian flavour because they were made by Australian people and were informed by the Gold Coast, Queensland and Australian experience.

“As the project & creative director, I wasn’t just working here on the Gold Coast, I was living here, with a youngster at school, going to Nippers, and making a life here.

“Soon after our appointment my team and I embarked on a process of community engagement and consultation. Creative development workshops were conducted with thousands of South East Queenslanders.”

Engagement went across a range of sectors including: Indigenous community (Yarning circles); creative & arts community; the business community; tertiary students (through Griffith University and Queensland Conservatorium); young people (through City of Gold Coast); multi-faith community; and the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) team.

In addition, a good number of individual consultations were held with community leaders and key influencers in the creative arts community on the Gold Coast, as well as in other Games event cities Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns.

Further, the ceremonies team engaged with arts communities in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands by attending the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) and meetings of the Indigenous Arts Centre Alliance (IACA).

“This process – ongoing to the end – ensured that we were making creative decisions informed by the experience of the real people the Ceremonies would ultimately be designed to represent.

“From day one we went to great lengths to remind people that these are not our – Jack Morton Worldwide – ceremonies, `they’re yours’.

“Many of those consulted became actual creative contributors and collaborators in the Ceremonies. In fact, over 45 individual artists, companies and organisations contributed to the creative delivery of the ceremonies, as we worked to deliver on our promise to curate, commission and collaborate with local talents. This process helped ensure that our ceremonies were authentically born from and of this place.”

Mr Zolkwer said after a few months of engagement and consultation, Jack Morton produced a creative strategy that served to inform all the creative decisions they would make thereafter.

“This checklist was a means for all the stakeholders to distinguish the right ideas from the many good ideas emerging. It included prompts to be ‘principled and provocative’, to present ourselves with ‘beauty, meaning and skill’, to deliver ‘an Indigenous heart and soul’, to be ‘a generous host’ and to tell a ‘universal story’; IE – it might be by and from all of us here on the Gold Coast and in Queensland, but it can be about everyone.

“Emerging from this creative strategy was a written introduction to the Opening Ceremony that set out our intent.

“In the Opening Ceremony in particular, what you saw were visuals very much of this place – the sand, the awesome artwork of Brian Robinson, Nippers and Surf Life Savers, a Smoking Ceremony, ‘Totem’ by Bangarra Dance Theatre and a huge representation of Migaloo…and much more. But our connecting narrative was universal; not just about us on the GC, but about all of us across the world – connected, together, sharing an island home in a cosmic sea.”

Challenges aplenty

Mr Zolkwer said the weather was the prime challenge.

“We knew what the weather was going to be or could be like at that time of the year on the Gold Coast, so we planned accordingly.

“There were many days when it was either too wet or too hot to rehearse (and often both on the same day). We built contingency time into our bump in and rehearsal schedules to mitigate the negative impact of some of the more challenging days. We also needed to build resilience into the materials we used to make costumes, props and scenery and also protect technical equipment too.

“Most importantly, we provided training and facilities (including hundreds of litres of sunscreen) to protect all the staff, volunteers and contractors working on the Ceremonies.

“That resilience was well and truly tested on the night of the Opening Ceremony when a torrential downpour hit the stadium in the 10 minutes leading up to the start of the show. Fortunately, the downpour passed just as the show’s opening countdown sequence began.”

Another major challenge was completing the bump in for the Closing Ceremony in 24 hours. It took weeks of detailed planning to make this happen.

Read more about what the other suppliers did and the legacy that the XXI Gold Coast Commonwealth Games has left the city from page 72.


*Image courtesy of Getty Images