With the majority of theatre companies still adjusting to the current norm, the biggest question facing them remains more or less the same as before: how do we get theatre to the people? There are certainly more facets to answer now than previously, with large congregations- especially ones indoors- having strict regulations on them nearly worldwide. But necessity is the mother of invention, and companies have been jumping on digital avenues, regulated outdoor performances, and sparsely seated, intimate indoor performances. There may be more options yet for socially distanced performance; perhaps something…nautical? Enter Caravan Stage Company and the Amara Zee.
The Amara Zee is a sea-worthy theatre venue owned and operated by British Colombia’s Caravan Stage Company, specifically a functional replica of a Thames River Sailing Barge. The company and its vessel have been in operation since 1997, serving as a beautifully anachronistic symbol of the roots of touring theatre. Bringing their shows along the rivers, shores, and ports of North America and Europe, this dedication to such a unique theatrical spectacle is romantic to say the least, and sets the creative mind ablaze with possibilities.
Since 2018, the Amara Zee has been docked due to a lengthy refitting. Caravan Stage Company had apparently intended to launch the ship for their 2020 touring production, Virtual Rogues, but those plans went the same way as every other touring company’s this year. But even if the Caravan is slowed, it seems to have no plans of stopping. On the company’s Facebook page, they stated that their plans were to spend the summer of 2020 finishing the refit of the ship without the time crunch of the tour, then mount their planned production in 2021.
On the afternoon of August 29th, Caravan brought the Amara Zee back onto the water on the Fraser River near Richmond, BC. While there has been little public communication by the company leading up to the event, and no actual performances appear to have been involved in the event, it begs the question as to whether there may be some performances to expect for the locals of the area. Touring at large may still have a number of snags to figure out, but a ninety-foot long ship gracing the waters, freshly remodelled, after two years on dry land will more than likely be a momentous sight all on its own.
The role that the Amara Zee fills is unique to itself. There certainly isn’t an inherent need for seaborne theatre, nor is it likely the most practical means of production. But necessity and practicality are not what make art beautiful. The passion the Caravan Stage Company has for their bold and surprising delivery method of theatre is the stuff of dreams. And especially in the context our world currently finds itself in, it makes one wonder what new pathways may await future touring artists. If it is of the utmost importance that people avoid large-scale, close-quarters performance, and if theatre companies want to find a new means to bring the life of theatre to audiences, is a dockside viewing of a starboard play really so out of the question?