Thomas Jolly, Artistic Director for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Paris 2024, poses by the River Seine. GETTY IMAGES

For the first time in Olympic history, the opening ceremony will not unfold in a stadium but rather at the heart of the city in one of its most vibrant, pulsing arteries — The River Seine. In lieu of athletes parading in the arena, boats will take each national delegation through six kilometres of some of the most iconic sites of the city in a show never before. And behind all this pomp and circumstance is Thomas Jolly. 

The man in charge of delivering the most ambitious opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics is a showman extraordinaire who once staged an 18-hour showcase of three of Shakespeare’s plays. While that in itself was a monumental feat, Jolly’s closely guarded plans for the opening ceremony on 26 July involve 200 boats and that six-kilometre parade along the Seine will recount scenes from French history, to be seen by some 300,000 live spectators, plus the billions watching on their screens. 

"This project is so gigantic that I can either panic straight away and collapse right here in front of you, or I can learn to preserve a kind of distance and do things steadily." Jolly remarked on his process in an interview with Vogue magazine.

Aside from the logistics, Jolly has security, sustainability and the weather to contend with — two-thirds of what he’s planning will take place under natural light.

Jolly mentions he’s keen on the Greeks —their amphitheatres and their myths— so this monumental production is right up his alley. He spoke of the Games and its curative nature, as well as how the ceremonies will be a celebration of humanity.

"The Olympics, in their founding legend, are curative. They heal the plague and they bring peace.” Jolly told Vogue, alluding to the world's political moment. “It’s a celebration of being alive," he explained, "and of living together."

A man of symbolism, he went on to speak of how he is going to weave the nature of the Seine into his work. "To begin with, the Seine was a goddess —a nymph called Sequana, who turned herself into a river so she could escape from Neptune. So the Seine is a woman who resists a violent man. That’s a very big symbol, and one I’m going to use because it makes the river a female force of resistance," Jolly explained, in a preview of what’s to come. 

The 42-year-old from Normandy was chosen for the task back in 2022 after he gave a double-page interview to the French newspaper L’Équipe on how he might direct a ceremony on the Seine. After a phone call from Thierry Reboul, an executive director of the 2024 Olympics, and another from the mayor of Paris, he finally received the news by phone and promptly called his mother in tears.

The President of the 2024 Paris Olympics, Tony Estanguet, who promised the most innovative Olympics to date, could not have been more pleased with the actor and theatre director’s appointment.  "I’m extremely proud that Thomas Jolly has agreed to direct this ceremony."  Estanguet said. 

Jolly says representation is key to his show’s success and hopes that everyone sees a place for themselves in Paris. "Maybe it’s a little chaotic, it’s true, but that allows everyone to find a place for themselves.” The opening ceremony will be a success, if everyone feels represented in it," he concluded.