Chariots of Fire cast gets boot camp for North American premiere

The Grand Theatre in London, Ont. has done something it's never done before — it hired the head of Western University's track and field team, Vickie Croley, to whip the cast into shape for the North American premiere of Chariots of Fire.

Western University's head track coach whips actors into shape for theatre adaptation of the oscar-winning film

The cast of Chariots of Fire run on a revolving track at centre stage. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Stationary drills, intervals, hurdles.

That's par for the course for track athletes, but actors?

It's fair to say for the most part, no. That is unless you're a cast member of Chariots of Fire, opening at The Grand Theatre in London, Ont. for its North American premiere this week.

The production is based on the 1981 academy award-winning film based on the story of of two athletes running in the 1924 Olympics, striding to overcome adversity.

To capture the story in all its glory, The Grand has done something it's never done before — it hired the head of Western University's track and field team, Vickie Croley, to whip the actors into shape.

Vickie Croley, the head coach of Western University's track and field team, has been training the cast of Chariots of Fire since January. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Croley's job is to make sure the cast, which runs on a stage that's been transformed into a track, uses proper technique in every stride.

"It was teaching them the mechanics of the sprinter," Croley told CBC Radio One's London Morning.

"They were very coachable … my athletes that I work with on a regular basis, they're not as used to that and maybe they should have some acting lessons before their next workout," Croley said with a laugh.

Croley, who has been coaching at Western University for 24 years, first met with the actors three months ago. Her sessions have focused on sprinting technique, mobility and injury prevention.

Dennis Garnhum, the director of Chariots of Fire, watches a whirl of actors run around the stage in one of the final rehearsals. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

She tasked the group with workouts to get them in top sprinting shape just a few times a week. But now that the actors have built up their endurance and skill, the workouts in the lead up to curtain drop have been happening on a daily basis.

North American premiere

Dennis Garnhum said bringing the show to Canada for the North American premiere has been a long-term dream.

The Artistic Director of The Grand Theatre, who also directs Chariots of Fire, first saw the production on stage in London, England's West End in 2013.

"I loved the animation, the energy, the spirit of the piece … I worked very diligently and I badgered and bothered people in England and finally they said go ahead, you can have the first chance at it," said Garnhum.

But it's one thing to get the rights to the piece, it's quite another to execute it on a large scale.

Bringing in Croley was one of the first pieces of puzzle.

"She's become a mini-director … She'll say no 'I'm not buying the running, we've got to go slower here,'" said Garnhum.

Between his direction, the choreographer's and Croley's notes, Garnhum said it's a lot of feedback and that's exactly what the production needs.

An energized performance 

It's been a workout most actors have never experienced. Wade Bogert-O'Brien said he would describe himself as a jogger, not a sprinter.

But after training for months, Bogert-O'Brien, who plays lead role Eric Liddell, says his recovery time and sprinting technique have vastly improved.

The training has also had an unexpected effect on Bogert-O'Brien. It's fuelled his performance.

Wade Bogert-O'Brien, who plays ones of the leads Eric Liddell, said training has been intense but worth it. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"Doing physical activity as part of a rehearsal process ... it energizes you and it helps carry you through the day," said Bogert-O'Brien.

Previews of Chariots of Fire start Tuesday and the grand opening will be Friday. The show runs until May 5.

About the Author

Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea?