Chicago has come up with a really big idea to boost tourism: giant puppets roaming the city’s streets for days in an elaborate theatrical presentation.
A multimillion-dollar deal is in the works to make Chicago the stage for Royal de Luxe, a French street theater company featuring marionettes as tall as 50 feet, during the summer of 2016, according to sources.
Chicago would be the first foray into the U.S. for Royal de Luxe, and officials confirmed Friday that talks are underway to bring the giant puppets to town.
“The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events talks to artists and organizations from around the globe on a daily basis about bringing performances to Chicago,” said Jamey Lundblad, a spokesman for the city. “We’ve spoken with Royal de Luxe and believe their unique street theater productions have a positive social and economic impact on their host cities.”
The troupe features a team of puppeteers maneuvering a menagerie of marionettes, including a giant elephant that sprays water on spectators, and a 30-foot little girl. The characters act out a play over the course of days, incorporating locales throughout the city as backdrops.
Founded in 1979, Royal de Luxe has played to large crowds in far-flung locales such as New Zealand, Mexico and Chile. In 2012, the troupe performed before some 800,000 people during a three-day event in Liverpool, England, where Royal de Luxe is set to return this summer to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I.
The 2012 event in Liverpool cost the city about $2.5 million, but brought in more than $50 million in associated revenue, according to a report commissioned by the Liverpool City Council.
While it may not make up for losing the 2016 Summer Olympics to Rio de Janeiro, the city is looking for an influx of tourists, revenue and international media attention, drawn by surreal images of four-story marionettes lumbering down Michigan Ave. and other scenic venues.
Promotion would be handled by Choose Chicago, the non-profit agency that serves as the city's convention and tourism bureau. If the deal gets done, the city would be looking to pull some strings for funding.
“If a performance on the scale of Royal de Luxe were to be presented here in Chicago, the City would request the project and all associated City costs be covered by private donations,” Lundblad said.