Nationalism and National Identity Created through Theatrical Performances: Comparative Analysis of Opening Ceremonies

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A fundemental question that is asked is 'what defines national identity'? Is it the way people speak? The way they move? Or is it what makes the country stand out? The Oxford Dictionary defines nationalsim as 'Identification with one's own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.'(Dcitionary, 2018) Taking this into consideration it is important to look into how nationalsim is portrayed throughout various types of performance. This essay will aim to compare and contrast how nationalsim and national identity was presented during the London Olympics in 2012 and the Commonwealth Games in 2014. To help me answer this I will need to delve into the main theatrical features which are the opening cermonies.

The Olympic ceremony was held in London in 2012. It was directed and created by DAnny Boyle. Throughout the three hour long opening ceremony there are many different segments that are shown, that show different eras of British history.The ceremony included 'rising chimneys,[...] its bouncing children on NHS beds and its airborne Bond girl Queen' (Jonathan Freedland, 2013) as segments of the overal theatrical performance to help represent Britains national identity.However, what must be asked is how much do these represent what we know as British national identity? To answer this we must take a look at some of the main segments individually.

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The NHS was founded in 1948 by Aneurin Bevan. Over the past 70 years, we in Britain are proud of this resourse that was founded on the principal it provides free, unlimited healthhcare to those in need. During discussions online, in the newspapers and even on live TV, the NHS is constantly compared to the likes of the American Healthcare system. It was descibred in the Olympic programme as 'the institution which more than any other unites our nation'. (N/A, 2012) The NHS had a prominent slot in the opening ceremony, recreating the letters NHS at the very end of their performance, showing how proud we in britain are to have it. So why was it included in the ceremony. In an interview with Danny Bolye, he mentions that the NHS was first as 'We've decided, as a country, that we're having that. You can change it a bit, you can fuck about with it a bit, but we're having that. A universal healthcare system is something we've decided is fundamental.' (Danny Boyle, 2013)

Born in Strattfod Upon Avon in 1616, William Shakespeare became one of the worlds most renound playwrites. As well as being known as a plawrite, Shakespeare is also known as the ceator of words and The Globe, Britains best known theatre. People from all over the world flock to The Globe to see productions of Shakespears works in one of thie original theatre spaces. Visits to Strattford to see his house and gardens and perhaps to watch a production by The Royal Shakespeare Company. Shakespeares works of art dont just invite tourists but are also used within the education system throughout the world.

Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth the second is the monach of Britain and sixteen other commonwealth countries. The Queen is a large figure in the British community, bringing hundreds of millions of pounds into the economy each year thanks to tourism. The status of the Royal family, as well as TV shows and articles that depict the Queen and the Royal family, are perhaps the main reasons why tourism to Buckingham palace, and the Queens other proporties are so popular. Britain is one of a few countries left that still have a Royal family in place, hence it is something that we would identify as part of our nationality. Throughout the ceremony the Queens performance was of a meeting with James Bond, stepping into a helicopter and sky diving down into the London arena. In an Interview Boyle mentioned that the small segment invloving the Queen and Bond was not in his original ceremoy plan. Instead it was a last minute adjustment, which not only came as a surprise for himself, but also as a surprise for the audience. It was mentioned the Queen was included so she could show herself in a less formal light and that noone else in the royal family knew of the segmet until it was shown in the Olympics itself.

The Industrial revolution took place between the 1760's and the 1840's. It was the transition from production methods using hands to using a variety of new and different resources including machines, chemical manufacturing and factories. THe Industrial revolution had, for me, the biggest performance of the London Olympics. There were a lot of different aspects going on at once, and huge set design pieces were used. It does, however, add an air of confusion. Though some see the industrial revolution as a large part of our national identity, it also created horrible living conditions for those of poor or middle class workers, much worse than they were presviouly in.

There is much debate to why each of these different segments were includedn in the london Olympic opening cermony. Boyle mentioned that, while in discussion with volunteers - that had also volunteered in other Olympic cermoies - that they respected the United KIingdon. They saw 'They see us as a beacon, this country as a beacon. As a modern, progressive country, and they aspire to it – especially London. And you think, yeah, we are actually. We're all right.' (Danny Boyle, 2013) This shows that all the segments going into the Olympics were to try and represent the best parts of british culture, which would in turn lead them to be seen as our national identity.

The Commonwealth Games was held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014, two years after the London Loympics. For this, another opening cermony was held, albeit it was on a smaller scale to the London Olympics. It was directed David Zolkwer. Like the London Olympics there were many different segments shown throughout the opening ceremony.

The first part of the opening ceremony introduced Scottish actor Ewan McGreggor. He explained that for the games they had partnered with childrens charity UNICEF. This partnerships aim was 'to use the power of sport to reach every child in Scotland and benefit children in every Commonwealth nation and territory.' This ultimately inspired millions of people to text in donations for the childrens charity, with the slogan, 'Put Children First' and led to 3.5 million pounds being donated on the night.

Nessie, or The Loch Ness Monster, is ones of Scotlands most renound tousist attractions, mythological creatures and scientific investigations.The first sighting of a creature living in the Loch Ness vicinity dates back to the late sixth century AD. there is no documented sighting again until the mid to late 1800's. Many people are shorouded in the mystery of Nessie, which makes it a large part of Scottish Nationality, hence why there was a need for him/her to be included in the production of the ceremony.

Tunnocks Teacakes are a widley popular treat within the UK, and in Scotland in particular. The teacakes making their first appearacne in 1956 by Boyd Tunnock. Zolkwer mentioned that the whole ceremony,

'was to take the p*** out of the conventional way of telling people how great you are, to take all the cliches and stereotypes and send them up - I don't know how it could have been more tongue-in-cheek.' (David Zolkwer 2014)

The giant dancing cakes were added in merely for humour, as well as their representation of being a popular UK treat. however, Tunnocks teacakes do not represent what many would believe as part of our national identity.

As well as dancing cakes, there was also Scottish Highland dancing and a Scottish Ballet Duet. Highland dancing is common in all towns and cities across Scotland. It is most commonly used during the Highland games, which occur at different times of the year throughout different towns. Its a smaller scale competition during these games then during the Highland dancing championships, though all the competitors work just as hard. The Scottish Ballet has been around for the past 50 years. It hsa been molded and crafted by not only the people of Scotland, but also by the culture and spirit of those around as well.

The other main Scottish influence on the ceremony performance was the involvement of both whiskey and Scottish Terriers. Whiskey, the Scottish drink is very popular in Scotland but is also drunk around the world. the most sales of which come during the tourist season, where many buy to take back to their friends and families as a reminder of some Scottish heritage that we have. SCottish Terriers are the adorble small dogs, used as pets, shown at dog shows but most commonly known as the face of Scotty Brand. According to Zolker, the dogs needed to be used to show off true Scottish heritage and breeding.

The only parts of the Ceremony that werent centered around scottish national identity specifically was when the Queen made her arrival and the Red Arrow display. Unlike the rest of the ceremony, these two sequences were perhapd the most toned down of them all. They were a little bit more serious than the rest of the ceremony. The Queen is monarch of the Royal family and also involved with a lot of charity work. The Red Arrows, also referred to as The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team are a group of diverse flyers - trained to the higest of standards - who perform formation flying displays. They have rightfully earned respect in their lines of work, which is why these two segments were toned down, to give them the respect they deserved.

In relation to the Commenwealth games, it was mainly of Socttish Nationality. David Zolkwer intended it to be this way. In an interview he mentioned that he wanted the event to celebrate what Scotland had in commen with the rest of the world. This was evident with the main themes, a love of myths and heritage. They're all different aspects that make up not only Scottish national identity, bust parts of the identity fo every nation that was involved in the Commonwealth Games.

The London Olympic opening ceremony was like a very well oiled machine, with its imaginative designs and innovated ideas. The opening ceremony had different segments that accentuated many parts of Britain and British identity. All segments, the NHS, Shakespeare, The Queen and the industrial revolution took place and relate to the country as a whole, as they are parts of all nations in Britain. However, the Commonwealth Games did not involve segments that could be referred to as British national identity, they showed parts that equated to Scottish national identity. While the Queen can be seen in both of the ceremonies, representing the whole country, the rest of the ceremony is predominantly Scottish in themes. With tartan spread throughout the whole production, Scottish songs, dancing and Scottish folklore, there’d hardly a speck of any fully British nationality held. David Zolkwer himself said of the production, 'it was not political, it was all about Scotland and Glasgow as a city.' (David Zolkwer 2014). THe opening ceremony was meant to be specifically about Scotland and Glasgow and what there was to offer here and in getting that across to an audience it was a success.

While watching the opening ceremony, one could tell that Danny Boyle attempted a somewhat serious production. There were elements of surrealism and exaggeration mainly with the part involving the Queen. However, it was obvious to see bit the rest of the performances that it was a serious event to highlight the best parts of British society. The Commonwealth Games, though, had a more tongue in cheek approach to it. As stated in the above chapter, David Zolkwer even stated himself that the whole ceremony was not serious and was made for entertainment instead.

The beginning of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony was very exaggerated. It included a lot of colours and tartan and its overall theme was very Scottish. This backs up the point that the games ceremony was to identify and promote Scottish national identity instead of British national identity. The London Olympics however, had quite a stark contrast for their opening ceremony. They opened the ceremony to a large scenery involving green hills, cosy cottages and charming clothing.

However, though there were differences in the way national identity was portrayed, there were also similarities. Both of the given ceremonies were made to celebrate sport. That was what the events were about. London’s ceremony involved segments that all nations in the country used, and all the nations competed under one title in the Olympic Games, Britain. Simultaneously the Commonwealth Games included segments that represented Scotland and what that nation was proud of. As known all the Nations within Britain – Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland- all competed separately under their own flags for the Commonwealth Games, hence there was not a great need to represent the whole of Britain in the opening ceremony.

Both the London Olympics and the Commonwealth Games used thremselves to express their national identity. Different as they were, both used the productions and performances within to get across the way they felt about our national identity to a globa audience and it worked. There were high praises for both and toursim rose. It was a complete success, bringing over 730 million pounds into the Scottish enconomy alone.

Overall, both the London Olympic Games and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games had very different takes on the way nationalsim and national identity was created through theatrical performances. Though both differed in size, structure and money they were both an booming success. They took into account thair own respective cities, but still managed to accept and show off a few segments that included the other nations that make up Britain.


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Nationalism and National Identity Created through Theatrical Performances: Comparative Analysis of Opening Ceremonies. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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