Nomadic Tempest: a Climatopian rock opera

Nans and Paul sail to St. Pete. | Photo courtesy of Caravan Stage Company

This summer the Caravan Stage Company sails into Vancouver (Aug. 15–Sept. 3) on their one of a kind 90-foot Theatre Ship.

Their current show, Nomadic Tempest, explores a future world where climate change has caused environmental catastrophe across the planet, using original music, aerial artistry, and projections to captivate its audiences.

Nomadic Tempest is an original – as Paul Kirby, artistic director of the company, says most of their shows are – production that focuses on the environment, specifically the dangers posed by climate change due to fossil fuels and the like.

“The show is set in 2040,” says Kirby, “and is centered around a horrible tidal wave that drowned most of the world’s coastal cities. There is a cinematic format to the show, as projected scenes of a group sitting around a campfire serve as a narrative backbone.”

The show uses the projections as a jumping-off point into exploring the world before the fatal wave, told through four monarch butterflies who represent the climate refugees affected by the global environmental crisis. The butterflies are played by aerial artists, and express themselves through song performed in five different languages.

“It sort of tears away your “North Americanism”,” says Kirby, “you are confronted by the global world, and you realize how small your world is. We want people to experience their world both shrinking and expanding, to realize there’s so much to be gained from listening to other people.”

Meaningful theatre

Created in 1970, the Caravan Stage Company has grown from a single horse-drawn wagon touring Vancouver Island to a large ship that travels all over North America and Europe. The company is the brainchild of Kirby and Adriana Kelder, who wanted to create a theatre troupe with a unique atmosphere.

“There is a particular audience for most theatre in North America,” says Kirby, “unless it is a risky and provocative piece of work it has a fairly upper-class, somewhat elitist audience that promotes theatre as a more social than meaningful experience, more cosmetic than powerful.”

In order to combat this view and create a unique presentation and atmosphere, Kirby and Kelder decided to use a caravan as a way to tap into the magical and almost mythological connections we have to the idea of a travelling theatre troupe. Riding into communities with brightly coloured wagons and performing in a giant decorated tent, the Caravan Stage Company awed many of its audiences with its colourful and unique style. And while the logistics of the company were a nightmare in the beginning, the group persevered and grew into the mostly nomadic life that comes with being a traveling company.

“There were a myriad of challenges,” says Kirby, “we had to develop a way of doing things, taking care of the horses and ourselves. It took more than [a] couple years, but slowly it all became familiar territory.”

The company continued to grow, and by the beginning of the 21st century it was established enough to undertake its biggest ever project: creating a Theatre Ship.

“It was an idea that Adriana and I had shared for a long time,” says Kirby, “it made more sense in the eastern section of North America, where there’s a lot of rivers and waterways, so when we moved out east with the caravan, the idea started to gel.”

The company reached out to see if there would be any businesses willing to help bring the Theatre Ship to life, and happily discovered that a lot of people and organizations were enthusiastic about the idea. The ship has allowed the company to broaden their reach both domestically and on the other side of the Atlantic.

“The biggest thing that I enjoy about the audience is the sheer surprise they go through while watching the show,” says Kirby. “They are swept up in a theatrical maze that their hearts and minds have to find their way through.”

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