The wizard of Oz

By Patrick Whitely (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-05-28 14:19

The Olympic cauldron rose from a large pool and was lit by Kathy Freeman during the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Without revealing any secrets of the opening ceremony, he promises the world will be "gobsmacked".

"Sorry, but I'm not sure how to say that in Putonghua," he jokes.

Zhang is the major creative force behind the opening while Birch advises on specialists for technical and design roles in the Beijing Games opening and closing ceremonies. It is a specialized type of work, which was not exactly taught at the law school Birch attended in his younger days.

Birch's knack at putting on a show was revealed during the spectacular opening and closing of the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games. It attracted the highest TV ratings in Australian history and led to his success at the opening ceremonies for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

After LA, the former rock and roll singer formed Spectak Productions, an events management company, which now has offices in Los Angeles, Sydney and Milan. He has consulted for theme park developments in Hong Kong, Japan, Spain and France, and dazzled at the 1990 World Expo in Osaka, the 1992 Universal Exposition in Sevilla, and the 1995 Exposition in Vienna.

In 1990, Birch directed the Singapore Jubilee Spectacular - a multi-million dollar production with a cast of 15,000 performers to celebrate 25 years of the city-state's independence. He was appointed executive producer for the opening and closing ceremonies in Barcelona the following year, with its unforgettable scene of an archer firing an arrow and lighting the Olympic flame.

For more than two decades, Birch was responsible for the creative concepts, planning, organization, budgets, and the selection of personnel for these huge events. He would form international teams, which would continue to top the previous Olympic ceremonies efforts.

But the Sydney 2000 was the jewel in Birch's crown.

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