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Park People Q Lines Nicolas de Villiers PUY D

The latest winner of the Applause Award – the prestigious accolade awarded once every two years to a single facility in recognition of its excellence and inspiration to the industry – is a theme park that does feature any rides. Puy du Fou, located in rural eastern France, was founded in 1978 by Philippe de Villiers and Jean Saint Bris, initially as a live show performed after dark against a château backdrop. Eleven years later, Le Grand Parc was added featuring authentic historical villages, and more live entertainment spectaculars followed. Today it is the busiest non- Disney park in France, with 60 live shows and performances in peak season including a volunteer cast of 1,600 in the signature Cinéscénie. After working with Efteling in the Netherlands, consulting arm Puy Du Fou International is developing new projects in the UK, Russia and China. In an exclusive interview with Park World, Philippe’s son Nicolas de Villiers, who serves as Puy du Fou president, tells us more about “the world’s only show park”.


What was you father’s vision for Puy du Fou? The vision came slowly. When he started, his plan was just for the night show – Cinéscénie. He wanted to make a show that would be like a big movie, but he was not a film maker, he was just a student at the time. The show was smaller than today, but still quite big. He got success, and after the first year the people around him told him he should go on for a second year. The vision for the park in 1989 was a French model, very different to the American model coming at the beginning of the 1990s with Disneyland Paris. We made at the beginning the village, and then a small show, and then another village. We soon realised the people were not coming for the villages with craftsmen working in them, it was not very impressive – they came for the shows, so from the middle of the ‘90s we really developed this side of it and have speeded up the process since by trying to create a new show every year.

How difficult was it to recruit volunteers as performers in those early days? It was very difficult, of course. The summer before my father started, he came to the small town of the area and had a meeting. Only the mayor and the guy who had the keys to the room turned up! But he never gave up, he had meeting after meeting and explained the project to many people.

Eventually some clubs; basketball clubs, football clubs, thought it was funny, and in December of that year he organised a presentation of one scene from the show in front of the castle. He convinced a very famous French actor, Philippe Noiret, to narrate the story and with this and some beautiful lighting of the castle, the people were moved. The emotion was so strong that suddenly they thought, “Maybe I will do this”. In the first show he had 600 volunteers, which was quite OK for a first performance, and because it was a success they all wanted to stay. We now have 1,600 performers in each production of Cinéscénie, and a pool of 3,400. When the time

Puy du Fou founder Philippe de Villiers accepts the Applause Award from Liseberg’s Andreas Andersen (left) as son Nicolas looks on

comes, each Friday and Saturday night in summer, we are all volunteers. A lot of people want to take part in our success, they are coming from all over Europe now, but only 1% is leaving each year, so we have to say no to hundreds of people.

The Applause Award is not your first major industry recognition – two years ago you won the Thea Classic Award from the TEA. How do you expect these plaudits to increase the profile of Puy du Fou?

Because of the Thea Classic Award we became more famous in France and Europe. The Applause Award is good for us because it was awarded in the United States, which is a good reference in this industry. Even the French media looked at us in a different way, and talked for a few days about us after the award. When we set up new shows or parks with partners abroad it is necessary to have a good reference, so both awards help. People come to us from all over the world, from all of Europe, Asia, South America, but not but not so much the United States, until now.

Le Mystère de Noël – lighting up Christmas JANUARY 2015

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