David is a man of incredible energy, creative talent, dedication, vision, and leadership, which enables him, along with his team to plan and stage the most massive and memorable events imaginable to the delight of millions – he shares his passion with us.
So it was a natural thing for her to send my sister Shelley and me to dance classes. Shelley opted to do other things; however, I continued on, and with a lot of inspiration from my teacher Bill Maynard I started auditioning for shows and TV.
My first professional job at age 12 was as Patrick in the show ‘Mame’, and it just went on from there. Fast forward to the late 80s, and I knew that I probably needed to start creating my own shows so I could do the kind of work that I enjoyed and also create more opportunities for other dancers. My career as a director and producer became a reality from that point onwards.
> You must be so proud of being a part of the Olympic Family. Tell us about the preparations you are currently working on (the 2010 Olympic Winter Games Opening, Closing and Victory Ceremonies).
Presently my company is contracted to create and produce the Opening, Closing, and Medal or Victory Ceremonies for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. There are a few other projects also in the wind, and I still produce theatrical shows, although mostly in places like Hong Kong and Singapore. We currently have ‘Cinderella on Ice’ touring the UK and ‘Cats’ is on sale in Singapore and Hong Kong.
> So much time, thought, sweat, energy, effort, meetings and goodness knows what else must go into the organisation of an Olympic Ceremony. Where do you begin? How many staff are involved etc.?
The amount of staff changes depending on the scale of the ceremonies – for instance, in Doha we had to bring in just about everyone from creative to production staff, and at one point the imported staff was around the 1,000 mark. We even had to import the Arab horses from Australia, which was unusual considering we were in an Arab country, but the horse training here is at a much higher level than in Doha. Sydney had about 270 Ceremonies staff, and they were almost entirely Australians with one or two exceptions.
In Vancouver it is a different story, as it is vitally important to have as many Canadians on the staff as possible – the staff numbers will end up at about 150. But even there we will end up with about 20 Australians. Ceremonies are massive logistic exercises. In Sydney we had a volunteer cast of over 15,000, and in Doha we had a cast of about 8,000. People don’t understand how much time and effort goes into something of that scale. It takes a minimum of 2 years planning and all for a 3 hour performance.
> How do you keep your energy levels up?
I do a lot of physical exercise like surfing, skiing, biking, gym workouts, horse riding, hiking, and swimming – basically whatever time and circumstances allow. In Vancouver where I am currently based most of the time, I have access to some superb bike tracks and hiking tracks, although currently hiking is out of the question, as it’s under snow at the moment.
And the hiking is extreme stuff – practically vertical uphill. Feeling strong and healthy is important to my state of mind. Later on, towards early 2010, it will be very hard to even find an hour to exercise, so I’m making the most of any spare time that I have now – which isn’t much I have to say, but what time I have I use as well as possible.
Also, sometimes just chilling out at the movies, or a good meal can be mentally therapeutic. And obviously when I’m in Sydney we always try to fit in a few days at Clarendon; it’s a great way to escape the craziness, and the horse riding and country is great for the soul.
> Your past projects emulate a greatness and powerful energy … the highest peak a performer can only hope to be a part of and experience.
The biggest musicals, ballets and large scale arena spectaculars … (Peter Allen Tour, Frank Sinatra-The Ultimate Event, Logie Awards, Royal Command Performances, Olympic Ceremonies Sydney 2000, 15th Asian Games, Manchester Commonwealth Games, Bicentennial Military Tattoo, Phantom of the Opera, Swan Lake on Ice, Grease, Chicago, Stomp, and of course Hot Shoe the list DOES go on …
> Share with us what you can about what inspires you, where the ideas turn from a thought into a ‘spectacular’.
I have to admit that fear of failure is always a very motivating force. Even when it’s not your own city and country on show as it was in Sydney, you still have an intimidating level of responsibility to shoulder.
I try not to think about all that too much and focus on creating the show. Ultimately that’s the goal, and if the show works, all is forgiven. Motivation can come from the most unlikely places, but for the most part we do an exhaustive amount of research and collaboration – and those two elements are key.
The shows and the ideas … the best of them are team efforts. So making sure you have the right team and giving them the inspiration and support they need are also crucial.
> Do you stay awake for days, thinking and planning?
I have been known to lose sleep worrying over projects, especially when it gets close to an opening night – there are always a myriad of loose ends that must be attended to and staying on top of all that can be a challenge. But that’s what I do now, and it comes with the territory.
I think the lack of sleep comes more from the insane hours that an opening ceremony entails when you’re in the final rehearsal period. Particularly when dealing with the top secret elements of a show, like the lighting of the Olympic flame for example, which has to be rehearsed at the most ungodliest hours. Or after the dress rehearsals, addressing any technical problems before the big night, which entails meetings until the wee hours.
The main members of the team including me were working 7 days a week and averaging 4 hours sleep a night in the last 4 months of Sydney’s ceremonies preparations.
> You must have an amazing team of people who work for/with you to enable such successful productions. What are their backgrounds and inspirations?
I do have a great team, and this has evolved over the years with each show we’ve created. Creatively my right hand man is Ignatius Jones – a wonderful performer in his own right, but also one of the most creative and intelligent minds I’ve ever met. Iggy has worked on quite a few projects with me now, and we’re always looking towards projects that we can do in the future.
My office staff in Sydney and Vancouver are second to none, and at times one or all of them have, or will have been to somewhere exotic helping me bid for events, or assisting in Doha or Vancouver. My son Tobi is also on my staff, so it’s a family thing too – Sheree used to be office manager at one stage. Most of them have a background in theatre or events or film. I also outsource some of the work and have certain companies that I deal with that I know will understand what it is we’re trying to do and will then just run with it.
> Your talented and beautiful wife Sheree Da Costa is an actress, dancer, and choreographer in her own right … Moulin Rouge/Man from Snowy River/Sydney Dance Company etc. Where and how did you meet?
Sheree came to one of my jazz dance classes at the old Bodenweiser studios, as she was making the transition from classical dancer to commercial/music theatre performer, and I asked her to come to a casting for a hair commercial that I was choreographing. She ended up selling me a lemon of a car – which led to a date, funnily enough. And that was the beginning of our relationship. Less than 2 years later we were married. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, actually.
> If you want to be entertained … where do you go?
Movies are always popular, as you can tune out and it doesn’t matter how you’re dressed. Theatre events tend to be more difficult, due to the effort involved getting into town. But a good show can be just as entertaining, if not more so, as live theatre is so much more immediate and therefore more engaging when it works well.
However, just talking to my boys Tobi and Joey is probably the most entertaining thing I can do – they both have a very good sense of humour. And our new 9 month old boxer dog Satchmo is also a laugh a minute.
> What does David Atkins do to wind down?
Spend time with Sheree and the boys, take the dog to the dog park, go surfing, exercise, watch movies or TV, drink a cup of tea …
> What words of wisdom can you give to the aspiring performers in our area?
I have been given some great advice as my career has progressed. I think the most valuable was the most simple … never give up, and follow your instincts.
So many times as a young performer you experience disappointment and let downs; success is determined by how you manage to overcome and move past those setbacks.
You have to believe in yourself no matter what, and believe in your skill and ability to succeed. It then becomes self fulfilling.
> Thank you David.