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Vickie Croley: the coach behind the athleticism in Chariots of Fire

Vickie Croley is the head coach of the track and field team at Western University and co-coach of Damian Warner who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics. But it’s the 1924 Olympics that Croley was thinking about as she coached the actors at the North American premiere of “Chariots of Fire” at the Grand Theatre in London.

I asked Croley about her work preparing the actors for the production that includes a lot of running.

1) The actors looked fit, but we know that appearance does not mean you are fit!

How much running did they do with you, and on their own, so that they would not be winded after the running in the play?

In early February I met the actors for a 3-hour session. The first 2 hours I taught them a proper sprinter’s warm, basic running mechanics and hurdle drills.

Firstly we did running drills that progressed from stationary, marching, skipping to faster running mechanic drills up to 30 meters in distance. We worked on how to start from the ground and accelerate into a tall running position.

The actors then progressed from 10m, 20m, 30m, to 50m runs. I provided technical feedback on the proper mechanics of their runs.

 

Next we moved to the hurdle drills. Again we progressed from stationary to marching to skipping then running over low hurdles (24”-27”). We then went to the classroom where I provided them with some workouts to do 2-3 times per week. We talked briefly about the need for proper footwear, nutrition and recovery. For example, these workouts should not be done on back-to-back days in order to provide recovery and reduce the risk of injury. Between this day in early February and their first rehearsal on March 26th, I hope they did some of what I suggested as well as their own fitness routine.

Once rehearsals began I met the actors every other day for 2-3 hours. We began by reviewing the things taught in the February session and moved on to more specific things like how to come out of blocks or hurdles.

I would say that the frequency of the running scenes occurred more often as we got closer to the previews thus becoming more taxing on the actors. We needed to ensure that they were hydrated, wearing proper footwear, recovering (rolling out, Epsom salts, ice baths, massage) and getting minor injuries looked after.

I asked a physiotherapist to come into one of the sessions ten days into rehearsing to give the actors additional injury prevention tools. Some of the actors did get some therapy after work. Rehearsing could be tough on the actors as they would repeat the scene several times.

Once the show began, the physical demands decreased because they’re performing once or twice each day. Certainly we needed to adjust some scenes, not to be all out runs as this would be impossible for the actors and world-class sprinters for that matter. A world-class sprinter would train at 100% intensity no more than two days in a row and usually have 48 hours between these speed sessions.

 

Grand theatre, Vickie Croley Runners Chariots of Fire

 

2) Stretching and exercises techniques evolve as we learn more about the human body. How did you choose the stretches and exercises seen onstage for the sprinters & hurdler?

Most of the stretches or drills you see on stage were from the drills that I provided. They are drills that we use today as part of a general warm-up, sprint warm up or pre-race ritual.

3) Athletic footwear has also evolved, the athletes could not use spikes on the track built in the theatre. Did they wear runners that were common in the 1920s?

The footwear came from New Balance London. I reached out to Paul Roberts, the owner and he provided a few samples to choose from that looked to be from the period. Basically, they needed to be black or brown. As for running rehearsals, the actors wore their own footwear that was most comfortable for them until the dress rehearsals began.

4) Kyle Gatehouse plays the hurdler, one of the most athletically demanding roles in the play. Were you involved in casting him?

I didn’t choose the actors but Kyle did an amazing job and learned exceptionally well. His height definitely helped.

5) If Gatehouse had no background in hurdling technique, how long did it take him to learn?

When we met in February, I sent Kyle home with a hurdle! I imagine he did some of the drills that we learned that first day, but I’m not sure. Once in London I just had to give Kyle a few tips about hurdle technique, and he was a quick learner and very athletic.

Special thanks to Noralie Jackett for her help with this story.

Details, Details:
Chariots of Fire
The Grand Theatre
April 17 to May 5
Purchase tickets online

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Vickie Croley: the coach behind the athleticism in Chariots of Fire

Keith Tomasek
27 April 2018
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