One giant step for humankind
May 9, 2012
A few weekends ago Liverpool hosted the French street theatre company Royal de Luxe and their giant marionettes for the ‘Sea Odyssey’ show. The spectacle was designed as a tourist event, coinciding with the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. Over three days a drama unfolded across the city, in which three giant puppets played out a story of loss and hope. The beautiful architecture of Liverpool was the backdrop to the event and an area about three miles square was the stage. According to official estimates, over 600,000 people turned out to take part in the giant spectacular. As a tourist event it was a huge success.
Liverpool Council and its partners and sponsors paid £1.5m to create the event. As the weekend closed the city’s PR machine went into overdrive. ‘£12m generated for the economy’ was the main headline. The press stories continued in that vein, focusing on the economic benefits and the volumes of tourists who had visited the city. The story was all about the selling of Liverpool and the consumption this generated.
The spectacle could have been reported as a huge civic success too. The weekend was a great reminder that we are social beings, that we like to do things together as a community, sometimes as a city. It was an amazing civic experience shared by a significant part of Liverpool’s population along with the visitors who came to the city. This was a lost opportunity to talk about the city as a community; as a civic economy; a place in which more than monetary activity takes place. It was an opportunity to engage the city’s residents in moment of reflection on the city as a shared venture, on the city as a co-production of community.
I spoke to dozens of people over the three days, including strangers and friends, and a good number more in the days after. We shared our awe at the size of the giants and the amazing co-operative act of the tens of people who manipulated the puppets and brought them to life. We talked of the spectacle and observed the wonderful carnival atmosphere it had created. We revelled in the magic of the appearance of a civic imagination, huge crowds sharing in the make-believe tale of a little girl reunited with her uncle after his 100 year search for her father who had stowed away on the Titanic. And I saw thousands of comments in social media expressing similar sentiments. Few talked of the money being spent.