Opening Ceremony: Navigating the balance of entertainment, security and environmental responsibility. GETTY IMAGES

The theatre director in charge of the opening day of Paris 2024 has an enormous task ahead. Not only does he have to develop a concept that will have an impact on the world, but he also has to navigate security, environmental and architectural constraints, and the opinions of billions of people.

Thomas Jolly, the young prodigy of the French theatre, has to create a breathtaking spectacle that will move the world and reflect the values of the Olympic Games and the host country, as well as its history and culture, but he also has to deal with various restrictions. From security to budget, from architecture to environmental and wildlife constraints.

The 42-year-old theatre director will oversee the most ambitious opening ceremony in Olympic history. True to its history of grandiosity, Paris intends to make history from start to finish.

Thomas Jolly, artistic director of the Paris 2024 opening and closing ceremonies. GETTY IMAGES
Thomas Jolly, artistic director of the Paris 2024 opening and closing ceremonies. GETTY IMAGES

This unusual pressure for a theatre director, who normally works at his own pace and creative preferences without the world looking over his shoulder, has left Jolly feeling disturbed and even in tears, according to AFP.

Indeed, the French agency reports that Jolly felt "dizzy" when he was asked to be the artistic director of the open-air parade along the Seine River in front of a television audience of billions. It was a sensation he had to suppress with tears at his mother's side.

Designing an opening ceremony outside of a stadium for the first time in history won't be easy. While a stadium can be compared to a theatre, with obvious differences, designing a show with thousands of athletes navigating the Seine, accompanied by a fleet of nearly 200 boats over six kilometres through the centre of Paris is more of a titanic task than a simple spectacle.

When you add in the various restrictions, the task becomes even more daunting. "There is the problem of the Seine, which is not the same depth in one place as in another," he told AFP in an interview. "The bridges are not the same strength, nor are the banks."

Volunteers wave flags aboard a boat on the Seine during the Paris 2024 technical test event. GETTY IMAGES
Volunteers wave flags aboard a boat on the Seine during the Paris 2024 technical test event. GETTY IMAGES

Mother Nature also plays a role, and if the idea is to be environmentally friendly, interventions that could disrupt the natural environment must be carefully considered. "The wind does not blow the same way everywhere. There are places where fish spawn because we try not to disturb the natural environment."

From initial vertigo to the final project, Jolly assembled a team of creatives who developed plans that were reviewed by the organising committee and security officials last July. "All these reviews were done to see if we could make our dream a reality," said the director, who will also be in charge of the Paralympic Games ceremony in Paris from 28 August to 8 September 2024.

A major limitation of his role as a traditional director is that he cannot rehearse "on site." "This show cannot be rehearsed on the spot, not even once," explains Jolly, known for his work with Shakespeare and the hit musical "Starmania." Preparation for the show includes individual rehearsals in huge hangars, while boat captains practise in a navigation centre.

Speculation about the exhibition

Although it is a closely guarded secret, the director's hints suggest that it will be a varied show, showcasing France's multiculturalism as well as modern musical diversity. 

"France is Edith Piaf... it is also opera, rap, a whole range of musical styles. France is cheese, but it is also the pretzel (a snack in the east, influenced by Germany). And it is also couscous. The idea is not to project a fixed identity,"  he told AFP. 

That would be the main idea in trying to outdo Beijing 2008, considered by many to be the best opening ceremony of the Games, or London 2012, with which the French capital seems to be competing to win this historic rivalry.

An attractive show overall

The French director, who will also be in charge of the closing ceremony, revealed that the ceremony will last around three hours and will be significantly different from others to capture the full attention of the audience.

It will combine the classic speech, parade, and entertainment instead of presenting them separately, achieving a different kind of convergence and audience engagement that is more in line with current trends.