It isn’t easy to be a theatre company in this day and age. Not only is it a constant struggle to compete for the attention devoted to filmed media and fight to assert the relevancy of the form to outside eyes, but the pandemic hit the performing arts incredibly hard. These are just a few of the aspects that make the longevity of Caravan Stage Company—the uniquely seaworthy theatre company—such a feat and make the announcement of their final production so momentous.
The Caravan Stage Company has been creating theatre for over half a century, from its home in British Columbia to southern California to the waterways of Europe. Founded by partners Adriana “Nans” Kelder and Paul Kirby in 1970, Caravan began within the confines of its namesake, Kelder and Kirby bringing theatre to audiences via horse-drawn carriage. The novel concept for touring theatre grew to unparalleled heights in the 90s when the company set sail with their legendary tall ship, the Amara Zee, and began their journey of carrying theatre across all but one of the Seven Seas.
Two years ago saw a refurbishing of the Amara Zee back in their home of BC in advance of opening their current show Virtual Rogues. The company’s endeavours were met with many of the delays that have plagued arts institutions across the pandemic, but this year will see the company bidding adieu to their current iteration with this final production. Kelder and Kirby will be heading to the south of France after they close to start a new venture of shadow puppet plays on a smaller nautical vessel; currently, the future of the Amara Zee is up in the air.
Caravan has certainly brought out all of the stops for their final production: Virtual Rogues is an exploration of the end of humanity—the final living creatures being the titular “virtual rogues” held aboard the Amara Zee—and revolving around the sacrifice of one of the last living organisms to a massive A.I. named Zeus. Combining digital projection work across the sails, cirque performance along the rigging, and large-scale puppetry, it sounds like nothing short of a spectacle. A fitting last hurrah for this iconic theatre space and a poignant discussion to see in such an anachronistic setting.
Certainly, there is nothing quite like the Caravan Stage Company and the Amara Zee. Not only is their persistence across the decades an inspiration to any and all theatre troupes, but the sheer vision devoted to their practice is staggering. And while Kelder and Kirby clearly still have more stories to tell in their new ventures, here’s hoping that this won’t be last story for the Amara Zee.