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Black Hills State University alum Michael Shann's connections as a producer for the Walt Disney Company are what brought him to Russia last fall to produce the Olympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony. Shann is pictured in Fisht Stadium with a few of his former colleagues who also worked on the Winter Games. Pictured, left to right Dave Nuckolls, VP of Production for FiveCurrents; Shann; Greg Fox, segment producer for both Opening and Closing Ceremonies; and Tom Bisignano, producer of Opening Ceremony.

 
 The Closing Ceremony, produced by BHSU alum Michael Shann, put a spotlight on Russia's cultural heritage which was reflected in works of art, music, ballet, literature and circus art.
 
Michael Shann, a 1970 Black Hills State University graduate, returned to his hometown of Spearfish for a visit this week after spending months in Russia producing the finale to the XXII Winter Olympic Games. 

The Sochi Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, one of the largest single shows ever produced, put a spotlight on Russian culture and heritage. It featured dancers from the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky Ballet Companies, music by Rachmaninoff, Rubinstein, and Vladimir Horowitz, and references to some of the country’s greatest authors, Tolstoy, Gogol, and Dostoyevsky.  It was an epic celebration – exactly the result Michael Shann was looking for. 

Shann, a 1970 Black Hills State University graduate, returned to his hometown of Spearfish for a visit this week after spending months in Russia producing the finale to the XXII Winter Olympic Games.  

“It was a bucket list thing to produce a show of that size and to work with some really creative people from all over the world. It was a once in a lifetime experience.”

On Feb. 23, sitting in one of four control booths, one floor above Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Box, Shann was able to see his months of work seamlessly come together in a show featuring 3,500 performers, 2,000 of them children, fireworks, elaborate scenery including flying boat, and even a little humor. The finale featured a jab at the much talked about technical malfunction of the Opening Ceremony in which the fifth Olympic ring failed to open. In the Closing, dancers formed the Olympic rings, but one group momentarily remained in a small circle before broadening out to form the full ring – a humorous reference to the opening glitch. 

“It was very exciting,”Shann said of watching the live show. “It’s the same feeling you have when you watch a play on the (BHSU) Woodburn Stage that you’ve worked on - just a little bit bigger. You want it to all go right, and you want the audience to like it.” 

Shann succeeded in his goal. The Closing Ceremony had nearly 50 million television viewers worldwide with all or a portion of the more than two-hour show broadcasted in over 80 countries. “It was wonderful. The worldwide response was very positive.” 

Shann said there was both a sense of relief and pride when the show was over. “You are always nervous when watching a live show because you never know what is going to happen, what will go wrong.”

Shann, who graduated with a degree in education with a drama and history emphasis, has come a long way since directing productions on the BHSU stage. For more than two decades, Shann, who now lives in Minneapolis, worked with the Walt Disney Company, managing major Disney projects throughout the United States and Japan. He has worked on several other large spectaculars including Disney film premieres, a Super Bowl and the Tokyo Disneyland 10th Anniversary celebration. 

His connections as a producer for the Walt Disney Company are what brought him to Russia last fall. Six of his former Disney colleagues also worked on the Sochi shows. “My 20 years of experience as a producer, and executive, with The Walt Disney Company plus experience producing live shows and events in over 30 countries played a part in me getting this opportunity,” Shann said noting that the opportunity allowed him to work with some of the most creative minds in the world including Closing Ceremony artistic director Daniele Finzi Pasca. The Italian director and screenwriter gained worldwide success with such productions as “Corteo” for Cirque du Soleil and “Requiem by Verdi” for the Mariinsky Theatre. 

Shann was contracted with FiveCurrents, a Monterey, Calif., -based production and events company hired to produce both the Opening and Closing ceremonies which had separate creative teams and producers. 

He spent six months in Russia preparing for the finale. From October to December, Shann was in Moscow working with the Russian Ceremonies Staging Agency. The work he did in the Russian capital involved overseeing the construction bids for sets and scenery, establishing budgets, recording, and completing models and designs. 

“We had a variety of nationalities working for the Russians all sitting around a table trying to communicate,” Shann said. “There were French, French Canadians, Italians, Russians, Americans, Brits and Aussies all working together.” 

As producer, Shann had to make sure all the different departments from creative and choreography to technical and construction all worked together, as well as working with the three broadcasting companies who were televising the ceremony.  “My responsibility was to translate the creative to the technical to make sure the vision could be realized,” Shann said. “It was really a close knit family of people. I discovered I was working with people who had worked together in Athens, Sydney, Torino … it was quite fascinating.” 

Shann was also an advocate for the Closing Ceremony. “The Closing always has to play second fiddle to the Opening Ceremony, so one of the reasons to have a separate producer is to make sure the Closing doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.”

The Closing Ceremony team had 17 days after the start of the Winter Games to get the Fisht Stadium ready for the big finale. “Everything need to be stripped down from the opening which took about three days, a little longer than normal,” Shann said adding that the Russians wanted to keep all the designs and scenery to put on display in the future. “It is really sad that you have these huge expensive productions and they really are for one time.” After the Opening, members of the closing team were in the 40,000-seat venue 24 hours a day.

Shann said one disappointing aspect of the XXII Winter Olympics was the lack of spectators from the United States and Canada some who stayed home because of the press coverage of the concerns over security and terrorism. “Even some of the athletes’ families did not go,” Shann said. “It is really too bad. The press really blew it out of proportion.”

Because of Shann’s busy schedule he was only able to take in one Olympic competition - speed skating; however, he did see several of the medal ceremonies.

Now, Shann is spending some much needed down time with family and friends in Spearfish before returning to Minneapolis to continue his work on corporate productions.

And, he says if the opportunity arises again, he would definitely sign on for another Olympic Game.