Swashbucklers and landlubbers alike will soon notice a floating rock opera complete with singing butterflies just off the shores of Olympic Village.
The Caravan Stage Company launched production of its floating operatic offering known as the Nomadic Tempest Aug. 16. Set almost entirely aboard a 90-foot tall ship, the show is equal parts spectacle, opera and theatre.
The Nomadic Tempest’s storyline follows four butterflies from across the world — China, Mexico, Syria and the Salish Sea — as they grapple with forced migration due to climate change. The audiences, meanwhile, take the whole thing in from shore.
“The story is about climate change,” said Caravan co-founder Adriana Kelder. “It means that we have to do something about it. The butterflies are a metaphor for climate refugees.”
A replica of an early 19th century Thames River sailing barge, the company’s home base is dubbed the Amara Zee. Between trusses, projections, lighting and sound effects, the show’s cast of 19 uses the boat as its purpose-built performance space. Characters do come ashore at times during the 80-minute performance, though Kelder was decidedly mum on offering too many details in advance of opening night.
“There are lots of surprises,” she said. “It’s not like black box theatre where you arrive every day and you go home at night. This is a living experience.”
Kelder has been living a nomadic experience both with this current show, and aboard the Amara Zee, for going on two decades. The ship was built in the mid-’90s in Ontario and has served as performance set and home base of operations for Kelder and partner Paul Kirby since that time. They’ve toured the world over with various shows, and assemble cast members as they traverse the globe. Before setting to sea, Kelder and Kirby operated a horse-drawn theatre company on Vancouver Island.
“Because we’ve been going for close to 50 years, thousands of people have worked with the company. It’s easy for us in many, many cities to get [performers] to be interviewed by people who know our company and what kind of person would work,” Kelder said.
The Nomadic Tempest debuted earlier this year in Florida, and has since wound its way through New Orleans and parts of Texas. It arrived in Vancouver on Aug. 6 after its opening performance on Canadian waters in Gibsons last month.
If the whole thing sounds like a mammoth undertaking, that’s because it is. Finding site-specific locations is an exact science: the venue has to be virtually free of wind and chop on the water, provide good sightlines for the audience and have good acoustics.
“Finding a venue is the hardest part of our job,” Kelder said. “It’s hard work. It’s rough and ready.”
The Nomadic Tempest runs nightly until Sept. 3, just east of the Cambie Street Bridge. Shows run 9:45 to 11 p.m. General Admission seating is limited. Recommended arrival by 8:45 p.m. Tickets are free, though attendees need to pre-register and can do so online at eventbrite.ca.