It’s not easy being a theater company these days. Not only is it a constant struggle to compete for attention in filmed media and fight to assert the form’s relevance in the eyes of the outside, but the pandemic has hit the performing arts incredibly hard. These are just some of the aspects that make the longevity of Caravan Stage Company – the unique seaworthy theater company – such an achievement and make the announcement of their final production so momentous.
The Caravan Stage Company has been creating theater for more than 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, with Kelder and Kirby bringing theater to audiences via horse-drawn carriage. The new concept of traveling theater reached unprecedented heights in the 90s when the company set sail with its legendary tall ship, the Amara Zee, and began its journey of theater transport across all but one seven seas. .
Two years ago, the Amara Zee was renovated in their BC home ahead of the opening of their current show Virtual Thieves. The company’s efforts have been met with numerous delays that have plagued arts institutions through the pandemic, but this year the company will bid farewell to its current iteration with this final production. Kelder and Kirby will head to the south of France after their closure to start a new shadow puppet game business on a smaller nautical vessel; currently, the future of the Amara Zee is up in the air.
Caravan has certainly put all the stops in place for their final production: Virtual Thieves is an exploration of the end of humanity – the last living creatures being the titular “virtual thugs” held aboard the Amara Zee – and centering around the sacrifice of one of the last living organisms to a massive AI called Zeus. Combining digital projection work through the sails, circus performances along the rigging and large-scale puppets, it feels like nothing less than a spectacle. A fitting last hurray for this iconic theatrical space and a poignant discussion to behold in such an anachronistic setting.
Certainly, there is nothing quite like the Caravan Stage Company and the Amara Zee. Not only is their persistence through the decades an inspiration to all theater troupes, but the sheer vision devoted to their practice is astounding. And while Kelder and Kirby clearly have even more stories to tell in their new ventures, we hope this won’t be the last story for the Amara Zee.