Cows and sheep: Olympics to have an English meadow
The 2012 London Olympics will open with a glimpse of the British countryside, past and present - from cows and sheep to meadow and mosh pit. Danny Boyle, the artistic director for the games' July 27 opening ceremony, on Tuesday unveiled a model of the set, which will transform the Olympic Stadium in gritty, urban east London into a rural idyll.
COWS AND SHEEP
The Olympic set will include grass and fields, sheep, cows and horses, a cricket match, picnicking families and a hill modeled on Glastonbury Tor, a landmark in southwest England.
Below the hill spectators will fill a mosh pit, evoking the raucous Glastonbury rock festival and other rural music events that are a major summer motif in Britain. At the other end of the stadium is a more genteel standing-room-only area - one wag dubbed it the "posh pit" - that is meant to evoke the annual classical music fixture the Last Night of the Proms.
There are even real clouds that Boyle says can produce real rain - in case the British weather fails to comply.
The meadow is surrounded by a circular parade ground for the 10,500 athletes taking part in the games. Boyle has nicknamed it the M25, after the often-clogged commuter highway that rings London.
BACK TO CHILDHOOD IDEALS
Boyle, the filmmaker behind "Trainspotting" and the Academy Award-winning "Slumdog Millionaire," said the set for the opening ceremony will evoke the "green and pleasant land" of William Blake's poem "Jerusalem," an emblem of Englishness.
He said the opening ceremony would be a "reflection of part of our heritage," but would also depict Britain's present and look to the future. The set is designed to evoke the site where the stadium stands: once countryside, then industrial land, bombed during World War II and now being regenerated as a park.
Boyle unveiled the model to reporters at 3 Mills Studios, near the Olympic Park, where craftspeople are working to create almost 3,000 props and 23,000 costumes for the Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies.
Boyle said even though most Britons now live in cities, "it's in our brains as part of ourselves, this ideal. It's like a childhood ideal, in a way."
RING THE BELL
The opening ceremony will begin with the tolling of a 27-ton bell forged at London's 442-year-old Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which made London's Big Ben and Philadelphia's Liberty Bell.
The bell is inscribed with a line from William Shakespeare's play "The Tempest" - one of Boyle's main inspirations for the ceremony - in which Caliban says: "Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises."
"It's a wonderful thing that we'll be able to open our games with a symbol of peace, the ringing of a bell," Boyle said. "You will feel different when you're in there and you hear it ringing."
A FEW PEOPLE WILL BE WATCHING
Some 10,000 volunteers have begun rehearsing for the opening ceremony, which will be held in front of 60,000 spectators inside the stadium and a television audience estimated at 1 billion.
Boyle acknowledged the challenges of staging a large-scale show for live TV - not least capturing the British sense of humor.
"You can't do a show about Britain, really, if you don't try to reflect our sense of humor," he said. "That's hard to do in stadium shows. They are the enemy of humor."
But he said he hoped to create "a sense of inclusiveness" - and keep the running time to three hours. The ceremony starts at 9 p.m., and the International Olympic Committee says it must be over by midnight so athletes can get to bed on time.
CEREMONY SECRETS THAT HAVE ALREADY SPILLED
Boyle hopes to keep many details of the ceremony secret, although some have already trickled out. Former Beatle Paul McCartney has revealed he will be the closing act and Boyle has said there will be a sequence celebrating the country's National Health Service.
A pre-recorded segment has been filmed inside Buckingham Palace, reportedly involving Queen Elizabeth II - who as British head of state will officially open the games - and Daniel Craig's James Bond.
Boyle said the ceremony's creators had an impossible task: To offer a vision of Britain with something for everyone.
"We're bound to fail," he said. "But we're going to try very hard not to."
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless