— Published 22 September 2022

Thomas Jolly, the master of ceremonies

The name was expected. It surprised everyone. The Paris 2024 OCOG unveiled the identity of the artistic director of the ceremonies of the next Summer Games. One man, one man only, will be in charge of the four evenings, opening and closing of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Thomas Jolly (photo above), 40 years old, an actor and director from Normandy, who is still little known to the general public, has been chosen after a long and patient recruitment process. He was chosen by Tony Estanguet and his entourage from nearly 70 candidates, of whom ten were retained in a shortlist and presented to the President of the OCOG.

Faced with the challenges of the four ceremonies, the two openings of which will be outside the stadium (on the Seine for the Olympic Games, Place de la Concorde for the Paralympics), the Paris 2024 OCOG could have chosen diversity, with a different artistic director for each of the evenings. Thierry Reboul, the director of the brand, events and ceremonies, explained: “We preferred to be consistent, with the ambition of telling a single story across the four ceremonies. The burden will be heavier. It will require a very solid team.

Thomas Jolly, therefore. A choice presented by the Paris 2024 team as the obvious one. The Paris organisers were looking for a new Philippe Decouflé, the artistic director of the opening ceremony of the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, who has gone down in history for having dusted off the genre. They wanted an innovative and creative spirit, experienced in the rules of live performance. A jack-of-all-trades of the new generation, with a classical and specialized training, but also capable of more popular creations.

Thomas Jolly would be the bird of prey. The son of a printer and a nurse, he grew up near Rouen, in Normandy. He fell into the cultural and entertainment world at a very young age and started acting at only 11 years old. As an actor, and later as a theatre and opera director, he has performed and staged Shakespeare, but also Marivaux and Offenbach. So much for the classical register. On the public side, he has directed the new version of Starmania, the enduring musical, which will be presented in Paris from November.

Known in artistic circles for his audacity, Thomas Jolly staged an 18-hour long version of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy at the Avignon Festival in 2014. 18 hours long! But, in the memory of experts, the drop-out rate of the spectators present proved to be very low, as the audience was won over. During the first lockdown, he performed Romeo and Juliet on his balcony. For the past two years, he has directed the Centre national dramatique Le Quai in Angers.

Cautious, the Paris 2024 OCOG refused to list the most illustrious names of the candidates not selected. But Thierry Reboul explained to FrancsJeux that the option of Philippe Decouflé, now 60, had not been considered. “We didn’t want to redo what had already been done,” he suggested. The dancer and choreographer was consulted, but without an offer to participate in the adventure.

From now on, Thomas Jolly will be able to rely on a team of authors, choreographers, musical and artistic talents. The budget for the four ceremonies has been set at 137 million euros, but it could be revised at the end of the year, in one direction or another. In any case, the new artistic director will have generous means at his disposal.

Themes? Patience. But Thierry Reboul has told the media that the four ceremonies of the Paris 2024 Games will have to tell “a national story”. It has already been drafted, at least in broad outline. Over the past few months, an OCOG team has consulted and listened to dozens of historians, philosophers, athletes and stakeholders. With one fixed idea: to propose a story in 2024 that “speaks to everyone”.