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By Andy Train

When I set out on my journey as a living statue performer I never dreamt I’d be part of a trio winning the World Living Statue Championships.

So let’s rewind and building on a beginning working with Hull Maritime who commissioned the characters along with research and development, creation of the characters and their costumes and props.

I was to play the docker, Bella the Trawlerman and Tom the whaler. Bella and Tom, are like me experienced living statue performers and work in the world of street theatre in a company called “Giddy Kipper Arts” and me in “Special & Affected”. We were to be three very significant maritime heritage characters. After completing two festivals in Hull, The Kraken and The Awakenings I hoped to go with the “act” out into the world. The Netherlands hosts the annual World Living Statue Championships and having taken The Gold Man there before I thought it would be a great place to start, so I applied. A panel choose who they would like to attend and base their decision on images, video footage and description of each act. Sadly, my original “Three in a Boat” buddies were unable to join me for this and Sarah-Jayne and Della kindly stepped in at short notice. Again established street theatre artists.

Traditionally travel and accommodation costs are covered and we’d be joining 106 other professional performers. We knew it would be a competition but entered into the spirit of the event gladly and proud to have been selected to represent. Della & Sarah-Jayne are from Grimsby and yours truly, Hull. We all have a good sense of our hometown and city in particular their port nature, maritime heritage and links to the fishing industry. We’d visited the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre and had a couple of meetings and a dress rehearsal. Costumes and makeup packed into our new, stylish team cases we were ready to head to the festival in Alkmaar. It’s usually Arnhem so this would certainly be an experience to savour and a brand-new Dutch destination for us all.

Performing at Hull Kraken
Promoting Hull and the Rugby League World Cup

Despite trying to book flights from Humberside to Amsterdam, we ended up having to drive to Birmingham and take our flight from there instead.

Once in Amsterdam we were collected by a couple of festival volunteers and driven to the beautiful city of Alkmaar in the Northern part of the Netherlands.

I recognised several of the other performers or at the very least they had heard of The Gold Man. The night before we would be involved, all available former World Champions were to performing under flood lighting, at this night event. Our accommodation was a shared property in what felt like a mini Center Parcs but branded Euro Parcs.

In Alkmaar we discovered that Patatas Bravas was a very different dish (ask us about it sometime), a lovely Spa shop just on the edge of the red light district. Then it was back to our Euro Parcs digs after a financial near miss, with a dodgy cabbie. Despite getting lost on the site heading back we managed to get settled into our shared home. The care and attention by our hosts was wonderful and our kitchen stocked with essentials for snacks and breakfasts.

The morning of the competition had arrived along with a van to collect our costumes, makeup and a bus for the human cargo. It had been a fair while since I was last performing abroad, so we were keen to get this as right as we could. My last festival statuing was in Latvia early in 2020. It was long overdue.

A cathedral like church in the centre of Alkmaar had been temporarily converted ready to receive us. Chairs, tables and mirrors were secreted around the venue and once registered, lunch tokens received, coffee poured and the process of transformation began. The atmosphere was that of 107 plus individual plays preparing to begin, many lone performers but a number with several players. There was a smell of body and face paint in the air and so many costume parts and props which once assembled would wow and entertain.

The festival had both an amateur and children’s category as well as the professionals’ one. A workshop of all ages ran to encourage new participants and “wanna be” living statues. We would be performing 4 x 40 minute sets on the hour from 1pm with a 20 minute break in between. Finishing at 5pm around a main stage where the local Mayor and festival host would present the finalists with flowers, trophies and prizes. Our allocated “spot” was number 46 just up from along the river and after a quick reshuffle on to a platform just outside a cafe. We were ready to begin. Each act had a sign indicating name, number and nationality of the performers. Also a pot for coins which most acts use as an activation signal to reward the kind patron with an action which often results in a jump scare response. Over 20 different nationalities were represented and all were allocated a zone volunteer who would assist with breaks and festival support.

Over 10,000 attendees filed passed each act and with a palpable buzz of excitement the many families and individuals of all ages had the chance to enjoy the afternoon’s offer of spectacle and wonderment.

Maritime characters compete in Alkmaar

The city centre of Alkmaar had been transformed into a self guided tour of living statues. We had two actions in addition to standing still, a prop each and three quite different looks.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone yet to see us perform so I’ll not tell you everything that we did.

The biggest frustration at these type of events is not being able to see all fellow performers doing their thing. The people were genuinely lovely and thousands of photos taken. After a quick four hours which brought so many smiling faces, much laughter and an opportunity for folks to practice their English on us. Of course we were non verbal throughout.

At 5pm we gathered back inside the church ready to assemble by the main stage that was expectantly waiting for the Mayor and host to climb the steps and take their position ready for the results. The judges had been around during the afternoon and like the public, had a chance to vote for their favourites. There would be an over all winner but third and second places too. Favourite statues in the child and amateur categories would be rewarded as well as the professionals.

The organisers placed the main body of performers on to platforms dotted in front of the main stage. Luckily for us a very kind Dutch performer translated proceedings. The Mayor spoke highly of the festival and the assembled masses. Names were called and performers applauded and invited to take their accolades. Then the moment arrived and the over all winner of the World Living Statue Championship is …. Three in a Boat!! Well, we were in shock and disbelief. We’d had an amazing afternoon and some wonderful interactions both with each other as performers and the public but we didn’t think we stood a chance. The other acts were phenomenal and the very best from around the world. How could we, on the first out of Hull performance, be the over all champions of the world living statue festival?

We hastily made our way to the platform and took the cup, flowers and sign announcing our new status! We’d won!! The music played and the confetti cannons roared overhead. We waved and posed for the cameras as the applause volume increased to include cheers and shouts of bravo and well done. Emotional? Very much so. It’s kind of the equivalent of a gold medal at the olympics but competing in very restrictive attire whilst mostly remaining motionless with a reduced blinking frequency. On reflection my original colleagues had done us proud to help me produce the costume element of this act and Hull Maritime for choosing to commission us at the start. One of the judges told us it was the obvious relationships, interactions and chemistry between us as performers and the public that had clinched it. It wasn’t simply that an act looked good.

Living statues engage with the public
Three in a Boat are the best in the world

Once off stage we were invited to pose with our peers and interviewed by the local press and media. Feeling so very special, honoured and proud we returned to the church to change and finally make use of the facilities because usually in costume you’re so restricted that even a toilet visit is a major event.

There was to be a shared meal back at the Euro Parcs site and a little bit of celebrating. We were so tired and with a check out of 10am the next day were in bed just after midnight. We awoke to a flurry of social media posts and hundreds of pictures online plus calls from home news outlets. Our flights weren’t until 10.30pm and we’d need to get on Zoom for interviews particularly with BBC Look North and ITV Calendar.

So once at the airport and a trophy carrying arrival we set up camp in the KLM Crown Lounge. This gave us a safe and comfortable breathing space that included all the essentials plus a couple of glasses of fizz! We carried the trophy through the airport like very proud parents with a new born baby. Random questions from strangers asking if it was real? What had we won? Who were we? Could they hold it? Even on the flight home the lovely KLM stewards had made us a card and presented us with mini bottles of champagne to take home to continue the celebrations. What an incredible experience filled with joy and laughter. We ached, needing sleep but drove from Birmingham back home ready for our next chapter!

Thank you for all the support, encouragement and many future opportunities that will no doubt be presented, to spread the joy and wonder that is simply three very distinctive maritime characters.