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Sea Odyssey: a three-day street spectacle captures the imagination of Liverpool

  • Date: 19 November 2012
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: North
Head shot of giant wooden girl marionette in front of building Little Girl Giant in front of the Royal Liver Building, Liverpool City Council/Ant Clausen

Liverpool City Council marked the centenary of the sinking of RMS Titanic by commissioning French street theatre company Royal De Luxe to deliver Sea Odyssey – a spectacular three-day event in Liverpool between 20 and 22 April 2012.

Grants for the arts funded project case study

This project was supported using public funding through the Arts Council's Grants for the arts Lottery funding programme. For more information on the programme and details on how to apply visit our funding pages.

Background

An estimated 800,000 people watched as three giants roamed the streets of north Liverpool and the city centre for three days in April 2012. Inspired by a letter a 10-year-old girl sent to her father on the Titanic in 1912, Royal De Luxe created an enchanting story about a giant who perished on the ill-fated ship, his orphaned little girl, her uncle and her giant dog. The 50-foot Uncle Giant, 30-foot Little Girl Giant and her 9-foot dog Xolo captured the imagination of a city as they walked before some of Liverpool’s best-known landmarks.

Sea Odyssey had multiple partners and funders. In addition to National Lottery funding though the Arts Council, Sea Odyssey received funding and vlaue in kind from Liverpool City Council, the European Regional Development Fund, Institut Francais Liverpool Vision and Liverpool Primary Care Trust, Enterprise, Glendale Liverpool, The Peel Group, Hotel Indigo and Liverpool Community College.

Challenges

Staging this spectacular event, which took 18 months of planning, was a major logistical challenge. Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism Councillor Wendy Simon says, 'The physical act of moving three giant marionettes around the city necessitated closing busy roads, removing railings; it involved dozens of stakeholders, a complex traffic management plan and the deployment from France of 125 operators, technicians and special effects staff.' Large numbers of volunteers were also engaged and proved invaluable – 250 who received training with Royal De Luxe prior to being assigned to one of the giants for the three days of the event, and a further 50 to provide information to the audience on route and transport options.

Language and cultural differences presented further challenges. The majority of Royal De Luxe staff did not speak English as a first language and did not share the same working practices such as UK health and safety legislation and working hours. This meant that Liverpool City Council had to deploy more translators than they had originally anticipated, and organise familiarisation days for Royal De Luxe and Liverpool City Council key personnel.

Outcomes

This event was hugely successful, with an estimated 800,000 people attending over the three days, and the economic impact being calculated at £32 million (see Vector Research’s report for Liverpool City Council on the economic impact of Sea Odyssey).

In addition to those who attended the spectacle, further people were reached through the project's highly successful social media campaign. Sea Odyssey’s website, www.giantspectacular.com, was the primary online presence for the event, and attracted 214,757 unique visitors. The event’s Facebook page reached a weekly total of 157,229 people and attracted 12,585 'likes', and the Twitter account had 6,211 followers. A full report analysing the effectiveness of the social media marketing was produced by Trufflenet. 

Feedback from audience members and the press was overwhelmingly positive, with one audience member commenting, 'Amazing stuff today. It's brilliant to have something like this in our amazing city. Thanks very much!' and 'It just sends goosebumps all over you'.

Numerous participatory projects were also delivered alongside Sea Odyssey to ensure as many people as possible could become involved - in the run up, during and after the show. This included, for example, a letter writing project where participants were asked to write a letter home from the point of view of a passenger aboard the Titanic. The best were transposed onto specially designed letterheads and fired out of a cannon as part of the finale of the show. This project was also delivered as part of the creative education programme developed in conjunction with The Reader Organisation, Writing on the Wall, Windows Project, National Museums Liverpool, Blackburne House, Liverpool Schools, Liverpool John Moore's University, and workshops for teachers were held to allow them to deliver the project in schools. Exhibitions showcasing the output of the participation programme were shown in Merseyside Maritime Museum, Sudley House and Liverpool Community College.

Liverpool City Council's Director of Culture, Claire McColgan, acknowledges the importance of the National Lottery funding they received through the Arts Council. 'The support of the Arts Council enabled us to raise over £1 million in other monies to make this happen but it wasn't just the financial support that was so valuable it was they way they worked in true partnership with us to make our ambition a reality' she says.

Find out more about National Lottery funded arts projects.