A multi-media, multi-lingual production performed aboard a 90-foot ship is coming to Courtenay to help raise money for a Project Watershed initiative to restore the former Field Sawmill site.
The Caravan Stage Company production, the Nomadic Tempest, is a saga about a band of butterflies forced to migrate due to climate change. They come from different regions and speak different languages. Their nemesis is the SwallowWarts, derived from an actual weed, which writer/director Paul Kirby uses as a metaphor for fossil fuels.
“They (butterflies) became our metaphor for climate refugees,” Kirby said. “The show is about climate refugees and climate change and global warming. It’s all set in 2040. Every time we come into town, it’s set in that town…This is a living future. If we don’t extinguish our fossil fuel appetite, we’re all going to be migrants at some point.”
The Nomadic Tempest premiered last April in St. Petersburg, Fla. before passing through areas impacted by rising sea levels and hurricanes, including New Orleans and Beaumont, Texas. It then ventured to Vancouver and Victoria, in conjunction with Canada 150 celebrations.
“It was a big homecoming for us,” Kirby said. “We hadn’t performed in Vancouver since Expo 86.”
Kirby and partner Adriana Kelder — the designer and producer of Nomadic Tempest — started the Caravan in Sooke in 1970. Back then, it was a one-wagon puppet show that toured Vancouver Island. It grew into a 25-person troupe that toured in six wagons pulled by a team of Clydesdales. They packed a tent that seated 700 people.
“There’s a mythology that we wanted to tap into, that was the myth of the horse drawn wagons, and the whole sort of horse era that was still in the memory banks of a lot of people,” said Kirby, recalling government at the time “gave us carte blanche on the ferries.”
The idea was to create an attraction that would bring a diverse audience into the tent. But the production became too big, so they spent four years building a ship — the Amara Zee — and took to the seas, touring the East Coast of the States and the Great Lakes.
“Because the audience sits on the shore, there’s an upper end of about 1,500 people, which is double the capacity of the tent that we had,” Kirby said. “But 1,500 is packed in. We’ve had those kinds of audiences in Europe, but not in North America.”
The 19-person tour spent nine years sailing and performing in 20 European countries, where Kirby found a stronger connection amongst people in terms of word-of-mouth contact. Normally, the troupe would arrive at a destination a few days before the show, which would drum up attention. But on one occasion, in a Sicilian town, they arrived in the afternoon and performed in the evening.
“By 7:00, there were 800 people. By 9:00, there were 1,200 people waiting for the show. And that wasn’t unusual,” he said. “It’s the uniqueness of our show, and the spectacle, operatic quality of it. And the content of the show. European audiences are well versed in a wider range of performance art. And they’re not tied to their television sets. There’s traditions there that go way back.”
This year’s tour is called the Salish Sea tour, which opened May 12 in Nanaimo. Kirby hopes the Courtenay shows will contribute to Project Watershed’s effort to restore and purchase the waterfront site dubbed Kus-kus-sum.
“In most cities — and this is what’s so nice about the Kus-kus-sum project — there’s an abandonment of the waterfront,” he said. “It’s in that no-person zone where the old, industrial waterfront has died off. People have turned their backs to the waterfront in most places…One of the things that we do is to bring people down to the waterfront again. It comes right into their backyards. Once they see it, it opens up so many possibilities that are not necessarily in the ball game.”
The Courtenay shows are June 28-30, and July 1. Tickets are $25 for adults, and $15 for those 14 and under. Purchase at Project Watershed at 2356 Rosewall Cres. in Courtenay, or at bit.ly/2rV6m7R.