The Eleven Arches Project
The brainchild of wealthy philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, the Eleven Arches project is a £33 million development and part of Ruffer’s £100 million vision for Auckland Castle and the ex-golf course next door.
Eleven Arches is one of two charities Ruffer has established in Bishop Auckland, the other being Auckland Castle Trust. The aim is to establish the area as an international tourist destination, attracting visitors and investment as well as helping to regenerate the area.
The development is based on the French park Puy du Fou. Working in partnership with the French volunteer-led enterprise, Eleven Arches project started more than two years ago with the ‘proof of concept’ phase, which allowed all of the technical aspects to be worked before anything was built. “I was enlisted, with a team from Puy du Fou, to make the show happen,” commented Damien Boissinot, Project Director of Puy du Fou International, “we worked with the volunteers and the teams of engineers in order to create the show.”
The project is an open-air live action night show in County Durham. The 90 minute show, titled ‘Kynren – an epic tale of England’, takes viewers on a journey though 2,000 years of British history ranging from the Romans and Vikings to the industrial revolution and WWII. With more than 1,000 volunteers involved as cast and crew, the teams behind the mass choreography of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, as well as other top performance experts, were tasked to train the huge amount of cast.
The 7.5 acre stage (the equivalent to five football pitches) for Kynren was created over 10 months with numerous grandiose sets that have been constructed to remain out of sight until the relevant part of the tale. The open-air landscaped stage will reveal itself as the story unfolds with the Chapel of Grade I-listed Auckland Castle as the backdrop. The stage is situated in a loop around the River Wear which creates a 3,500m2 lake at its centre and has a castle backdrop behind the stage.
Running along the front is a railway track for the life-size, fully operational replica of Stephenson’s Locomotive No.1 steam train – the first ever passenger train.
The show features ships and a steam train, mass choreography, combat, dance, pyrotechnics, lighting and water effects, and video projections.
During the build around 200 construction workers and personnel from specialised production companies worked around the clock to ensure the set would be ready on time. Up to 40 vehicles were used to move and shape tons of the earth to create the 22 acre site where the show takes place, which ranged from tractors to 60 tonne excavators and diggers.
The central lake, set within the stage, has a submerged bridge that will allow the cast to appear to be walk on the water. The lake will be equipped with sophisticated underwater hydraulics that will enhance the historical re-enactments.
The seating area, known as the Tribune, has an 8,000 capacity and is located directly in front of the stage to allow the best view for the whole audience. Clad in wood the seating is designed to blend in with the landscape in order to not detract from the show. The 115 acre project site also features a box office for viewers to get their tickets and merchandise, the cavalry stable, ménage to exercise the horses and animal pens in order to house the animals that are in the show. The car parking space is around a 15 minute walk to the show area, allowing the site to keep as much modern construction as they can from distracting from the re-enactments. To the left and right of the Tribune are the ‘actor’s villages’ where the hundreds of professionally-trained volunteers will gather before entering the stage area.
The cast and crew of the show are made up more than 1,000 volunteers, with more than 600 individuals involved in each performance. All of the performers are professionally trained in various aspects ranging from archery, dance, stage fighting, and sword fighting.
Included in the build is the ‘Eleven Arches Academy,’ which is a training school for 300 young volunteers each year in order to prepare for the shows. This has been done to ensure that the project can be staffed by local people who want the area to thrive.
The main challenge faced by the team in charge of the project was the time frame that they had to build such a large and detailed heavy design. “The planning application was delayed and finding the right main contractor who was able to work in the time given made it difficult,” commented Damien. With the work two to three months delayed, it meant that the time scale was very tight. Other challenges included floods, which meant construction couldn’t continue until the water had been cleared, as well as casting and organising the performers on such a large scale.
The Eleven Arches project is an important investment in the area as, with an estimated 130,000 visitors a year, it will see about £3 million annually invested and should generate £9 million in tourism revenues for the surrounding area. “To be able to set up that kind of show, which has the local area’s history linked to the show is great,” commented Damien “the feedback has been really great. It’s just unbelievable.”
The shows will be staged for 17 nights each year, between May and September and will support 232 FTE jobs, and 287 at regional level.