Keeping up with the Joneses

17 February 2003

Keeping calm: Penny Jones orchestrating things about a week before the opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup.

JUST a nervous week before the start of the 2003 International Cricket Council Cricket World Cup (ICC CWC), Penny Jones, executive producer of the much anticipated opening ceremony, had a couple of hard but practical decisions to make.

The first full run of the show had shown up a couple of hiccoughs, notably one of the quick changes of costume that was causing some chaos behind the scenes. But when you've cut your stadium theatre production teeth at the Atlanta Olympics (in 1996), Salt Lake City Winter Olympics (2002), the All African Games (1999) and the 2000 Sydney Olympics — with the 1999 South African Olympic Bid thrown in for good measure — you don't get flustered that easily.

Cutting the scene, Jones moves on to the other tasks associated with managing around 4 500 volunteer performers (who gambolled around Newlands Cricket Ground), another 500 or so other volunteers and support staff, and a R30-million show that was eventually, according to reports, televised to about 1.2 to 1.4-billion viewers around the globe. “This has been a massive, massive project,” says the UCT fine arts alumna.

Much of the acclaim has to go to Dr Ali Bacher, Executive Director of 2003 CWC, who was very supportive throughout the planning and practices, she adds. “They had the option — they could easily have done a simple little show, with a little stage in the middle of the field and a couple of wonderful singers, and they would probably have had change from R5-million.”

Instead, the organisers opted for a cast of thousands, around 12 000 costumes and props — 70% of the making of these was outsourced to previously disadvantaged communities — and chose Jones to head the production. The problems and joys of putting it all together was much the same as with the other events she's been involved in, except in one regard, she notes.

“If you compare that [R30-million] to the about R400-million for Salt Lake City, you get some idea of the disparity. I could easily have spent another R10-million on lighting alone, and at least another R500 000 on pyros.”

Following the exhaustions of the CWC, Jones intends to take some time off from her beloved stadium theatre — but not too much. With the South African bid for the 2010 Soccer World Cup coming up and whisperings of tenders for the Commonwealth and Olympics Games doing the rounds, there's still plenty to achieve.

“I reckon I've got about three or four really big shows left in me before I die,” she remarks with a grin.

For now, Jones is looking forward to celebrating the end of the CWC with millions of other South Africans, although she won't be providing the fanfare. “It's really going to be about cricket —it's going to be about South Africa with the trophy on their heads,” she says confidently.

We hope so.

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