Anyone who’s watched a live sporting event can agree on the thrill and magic that fills a stadium when the team walks onto the field. Now multiply that feeling by 2000, the number of athletes that will participate in the 2017 Canada Summer Games being held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. For some of these athletes, they have reached the pinnacle of their sporting career. That in itself is a huge achievement. For others, the Games are a stepping stone to world championships and being able to compete in the Games brings those championships just that little bit closer. Either way, it’s a celebration for everyone involved.
Behind this year’s celebrations, the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, is Patrick Roberge, the President and Director of Patrick Roberge Productions Inc., For Roberge, the ceremonies are about more than just creating a fantastic spectacle to be viewed by the public. This is his chance to create an intrinsic connection between the Games and the community.
“I’m always touched when I run into participants and volunteers who have been involved in our shows,” said Roberge. “You are constantly touching and connecting with people when you’re running these events. It can be the simplest or shortest piece of the show, but for those participants, it’s a fantastic takeaway that they will talk about forever. This is a critical mass of people getting it done together. Now that’s an incredible legacy.”
Roberge first discovered his passion for the entertainment industry in high school while participating in theatre groups. After high school, and getting a taste for large scale productions while working in the ceremonies department for the Calgary Olympics, he worked the “gypsy circuit”, moving from event to event, adding an impressive portfolio of events (think Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Jubilee Tour and the inaugural Chinese New Year Parade in Hong Kong) to his resume.
For Roberge, his love of events stems from the magic and chemistry he is able to create in a simple moment. “Everyone has a different lens through which they will experience a show because everyone is coming from a different place. The one thing they have in common in this shared moment in time. This is where the magic comes in! When you can say ‘I was there’.”
Roberge was the Producer of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as well as numerous professional sport halftime shows and ceremonies, including five Grey Cup Halftime Shows, five Canada Games Ceremonies, the 2012 Arctic Winter Games, the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Opening Ceremony; the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Official Draw; and the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Gay Games. In addition to these large-scale public spectacles, he has produced countless national and international corporate, cultural and protocol events.
Roberge is selective in the events he chooses to work on. “We’re so fortunate to work on events that aren’t just visually exciting, but ones that also tell great stories like Rick Hansen Foundation’s Man in Motion events or the Terry Fox anniversaries,” said Roberge. “Those are the moments that I am really proud to be a Canadian.”
Looking back at productions he has been involved in, Roberge said that the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, Yukon, with a community of only 24 000, stood out as one of his favourites.
“This was an event that touched every kitchen table,” said Roberge, who chose not to stay at a hotel or inn during his time in Whitehorse, but rather with a local family in a bunk bed.
“Everyone opened their homes! This was a community that said ‘we are all in this together and we are going to put our best foot forward.’ Absolutely everyone got involved, stayed up late, volunteered and participated in any way they could.”
Roberge draws a similar comparison between the Games in Whitehorse and the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, who, despite being a town of under 100 000 people, put on a show as good, if not better, than some of the major cities around the world.
It’s not surprising that Roberge starts his days before most of us are even contemplating our first coffee.
“The devil is in the detail” said Roberge. His theory is that events are remembered in 10 second segments. “When you think back on any big show you can really only remember these certain 10 second pieces.” The trick then, is to ensure that the shows he produces have a series of unforgettable 10 second moments. “Of course, you want people remember the right 10 seconds and we run a very efficient, well-oiled machine to ensure this happens.”
Creating a series of perfect 10 second moments is an intimidating feat. It’s easy to see how such attention to detail could keep even the most astute event planner up at night. Roberge is constantly trying to push the level of creativity and add in unique and unexpected elements. This can be difficult to execute.
“When you’re relying on technology or 500 different things to come together it can certainly add a layer of stress that can result in sleepless nights,” said Roberge. “But it usually works out.”
He recalls the 2010 Winter Paralympics opening ceremony in Vancouver when Montreal breakdancer Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli was set to perform. Born with a condition called athrogyprosis, which limited the muscle and joint growth in his legs, and scoliosis, a condition which leads to the curvature of his spine, Patuelli walks with crutches. He dances using incredible upper body strength.
“We had built a whole segment around Luca,” explained Roberge. “We had taught the whole audience, the entire stadium, parts of Luca’s choreography prior to him entering the stage.”
Roberge’s was plan was to turn the stadium lights on bright during the performance and have the whole crowd get up and dance. And it worked – over 60 000 people jumped to their feet and danced in time to Patuelli’s moves.
“We sweated and toiled, worrying that it wasn’t going to pay off,” said Roberge. “But it did! The audience came together and embraced Luca. They were all committed to being involved.”
For those that attended the opening ceremony, being physically involved in the performance is something they will never forget and many still stop Roberge to talk about it.
“Our goal is always to get people engaged. To get them to participate, whether they turn on the TV or come to the arena. People love it when they are actually involved,” he said.
Despite what will be a frantic schedule during the Summer Games, Roberge always makes a point to watch at least one sport, usually one of the more obscure, less attended ones.
“We always try to support some of the smaller games that don’t necessarily draw the big crowds. These athletes work just as hard on their craft as those in the more popular sports,” he said.
During the Arctic Winter Games, Roberge made a point of going to watch the Dene games, in particular, the Stick Pull where players try to pull a greased stick out of their opponent’s hand. That particular game was won by a 15 year old girl. For Roberge, who has two daughters, it’s important to support sport that promotes female athletes.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to work on some great events. Every community has their own special characteristics and Winnipeg will be the same,” said Roberge.
“It feels great to be able to tell this story and show people from all across the country what is unique about the city and what makes it special.”
Unsurprisingly, Roberge is a big supporter of the local public getting involved in the games. He recalls his own experience when the Vancouver Olympics were in town and the torch relay would be passing by a few blocks from his house.
“I knew this was happening and I remember thinking to myself, do I really want to do this? So I took an hour off work so I could get home early and walked over with my family. We had no idea what to expect. All of a sudden the entire neighbourhood showed up. We were all there to share this incredible moment and I am so glad we went,” said Roberge.
“When an event comes to your community, you don’t want to be the person who wished they had gone.”