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Articles de La Guinguette - 2002 - août - société

Titre Le Puy du Fou
Année 2002
Mois août
Catégorie société
Traducteur Catherine Mills
Dernière mise à jour02 December 2008

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Le Puy du Fou

We come first of all because we love our country and then we like to retrace the history that there has been in the past.

Here, there are no farmers, there are no workers, there are no managers, there are no company directors, we are all the same you see. All use "tu", we are all friends, one place that's all... that is a good thing!

Well, because it offers beauty, that's all. Beauty and emotion, and when the emotion passes, well then, you are better off. I think that the people who have seen the show are moved. Everyone says; there are not words to explain the show, you have to see it, you have to see it.

The pleasure of helping people who do not know the Vendee to discover it, to be amongst friends again, to dress up, and so on.

We pleased ourselves before, to start with, and then after, I think the people who came, well, they were happy, they had seen something of beauty, they had had a dream.

It is every thing, the entity. Already from the start it is the ambiance between the Puyfolais. There is a spirit... For me, in the Puy du Fou it's another world. You join in something, every-one says hello, we call ourselves by our first names, and then there are loads of things like that which makes that, well we have a desire to come and participate.

We call them the Puyfolais. They give off a contagious happiness. And they are at the heart of a story of success of which the size is staggering.

In 1978, some hundreds of farmers living around the Puy du Fou, a ruined castle is the west of France, decided to put on a show recounting the history of their region: the Vendee. Today, each year...

...in numbers of visitors, there are 400,000 spectators for the night show.

To what is this phenomenon attributed which has profoundly changed a small corner of France into a centre of tourist attraction renowned through the world? First of all you must know that today the "Cinescenie" of the Puy du Fou is a show unlike any other: beautiful choreography, special effects, holograms, unexpected lighting effects and above all a team of almost a thousand actors - all voluntary, and it is all around a ruined castle with it's lake in front... there is that which moves even a traveller worn out by an excess of shows of "son et lumieres" not always very successful.

The show recounts the history of the Vendee through the ages. The "Vendeens" have always defended the ownership of the land and the church. During the revolution they protected the priests and the minor noblemen who were their masters, against the revolutionaries.

Pascaline is our guide in the wings of Puy du Fou:

Each evening of the show we have 800 actors on stage, plus all the horsemen... that makes a lot of people.

The horsemen have a major role in the show. They play many scenes with a lot of horses, notably one of the first scenes called the fifteen. Each evening each horseman occupies himself with his horse, the brass, the saddle, etc... and he is responsible for it for the whole show.

Today, the cavalry number 120 horses, which is a very large horse show.

You see, they started with nothing, with only a few horses... It was mainly the horsemen, and gradually over the years they have assembled their stunt school, the dressage, etc... and all the winter the riders work thanks to the junior academy. It isn't only a riding school, it is a school of sewing, of the theatre, of dance, of juggling, etc... in fact where all the Puyfolais, young and not so young, come. The association lives equally as much in the winter...

It goes well?

There is no difficulty finding volunteers to play. We even have too many candidates:

In all, in the Puy du Fou, there are now currently 2750 volunteers. And then there are the people who come to play every Friday evening and Saturday evening during the season.

The replacement goes well. The former (participants) come back often. Currently, we estimate that around 300 people have been coming for 25 years, from the beginning.

We have a very strong community life in the Vendee and it's our history which unites us, it really unites on the stage. On the stage we are amateurs but, well... we must act like professionals, in fact, but that doesn't bother us. We do it very well, yes...

In the wings behind the stage there are free bars, some games for the children, the whole community lives around the shows.

Everyone is relaxed; it goes well. We are there to laugh, we are volunteers, we are there to laugh, and... it goes very, very well, yes. Before, before the show, we are in the bar, we play games; we play "palet"... "palet", I don't know if you know it. It is a game, a game from Vendee... Here, in fact, a disc, a little round of... in actual fact... there, in wood. A little wooden disc and we have to throw it. Normally, we must throw it onto a board, but here we throw it into a clog, there, we stay in the past.

There are all ages, and some people who spend their life as "Puyfolais". As for the infants, the youngest of the children is only two years old.

They adore it. The magic of Puy du Fou, it's because it's the evening, in the night and as well they are dressed up so for them it is a haven of liberty. In the night, without parents and dressed up. I always ask them what they think during the war when they are lying on the ground for 5 or 10 minutes, but no, they are incapable of telling me. They are incapable of telling me what they think, and on the other hand they dream in front of the horses, the horsemen, the dancers, the French team... It's a magic world.

For some it is a revelation, certainly; it has allowed them... for the horse men; it allows them to ride a horse in exceptional conditions that they would never know any where else. For the schools also, the academies which run all the year and which permit the children to make costumes, to make the illuminations, to do... the sewing, yes, the dancing and the acting. All these reveal the talents, in fact.

And besides that we learn as well, when we are young, to live in a group, to respect children, adults, older people too.

And what is also magic is to do something with others, it creates ambiance, in the cabins, they are cabins for children, for adults and all that, there is an extraordinary ambiance because we are making something: I think that is that which is most important also.

For the adults as well, it's magic. Me, I have two doctors in my group. 2 female doctors, well it's an escape: they come here and everything is forgotten. It's fun.

Me, 10 years.

And then me 23, 23 years. I started with my children, and then my children started very young at the age of 12years. And one day they stopped, the wanted to do something else, and then now well I have my grandchildren.

The show has now given birth to an amusement park in partnership. Etienne Guilmineau works in the commercial administration:

In fact everything is reinvested. That is why we have new things all the time, it's why it lasts. It's because the Puy du Fou reinvests all its money, in the "cinescenie". We also give money to charities.

In the park, there are 4 major attractions, in short, 4 big shows. First of all there is the battle of the keep; it is a show of chivalry and of stunts on horse back. You have also, at the 1000 year old fort a Viking show, on the theme of the invasion of the Vikings, another show: a falconry display, which is now, currently, the biggest falconry in Europe, there are more than 250 birds of prey, 50 different species. And then the new thing in 2001 was the Gallic-Roman stadium. So, imagine a stadium 115 metres long, 80 metres wide, 6000 seats, and inside a chariot course like the one in the film Ben Hur, the fighting of the gladiators, the big cats...

It's true that at the level of economic life, the Puy du Fou draws a lot of tourists. 25 years ago, Les Epesses, were a... as we say in France a godforsaken hole. There was nothing, we had a bakery and then that is all. Now, there are hotels all over the place. All the hotels, all over the region are full every night of the show.

But isn't there a risk that all this fame - and the commercialisation of the event - spoils the volunteer spirit which launched the project? Not at all apparently:

And we are all paid the same price, with an increase of 100 per cent per year. Oh! From the beginning, that says a lot...

Oh, no, no if we are paid, we go away. It's clear.

Money kills everything. We are volunteers right to the end. There are some who will stay, but me, I am sure that if you tell me"you will be paid", then ...goodbye Berthe, meet you on the slopes. I am going, it's inevitably going to break the spirit, and it cannot work. There will always be jealousy... it's not possible.

The goal from the beginning was not that... it is not a question of money. We are here for pleasure, to promote the culture of our country and then, ah well, one position (point of view) that's all, isn't it?

Exactly, I completely agree.

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Notes

With questions or for more information, please contact Alistair Mills (alistair.mills@btinternet.com)
Updated 02 December 2008

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