Published: May 2014 – All At Sea
© 2014 Troy Gilbert
Many odd vessels have been spotted transiting the ICW and the coastal waters of the South, but a truly unique sight will be plying the coastlines throughout the summer. Shipped from Europe last summer, a 100′ Thames Barge and her theatrical troupe and crew of Europeans and North Americans are transiting the Gulf Coast and then Florida to arrive in Jacksonville for the start of their North American tour. Best described as a nautical Cirque d’Soleil, although they prefer to be compared as more of a descendant of the theatrical troupes that travelled Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries, who set up their productions in the plazas of Florence and Venice and brought their satirical expressionism straight to the people.
The custom built, flat-keeled vessel is modeled after the sailing barges that would transport cargo on the waterways of England over a century ago. The Amara Zee today houses the entire production and actors of the Caravan Stage Company, who make scheduled stops at marinas and waterfronts where they put on a fantastical multimedia spectacles. Actors and acrobats fly through the rigging of the 90′ and 58′ masts to original scores and lyrics, while bathed in the glow of kaleidoscopic lighting and designs flashed onto sails and backdrops – the entire vessel is the stage.
The Caravan Stage Company was birthed in the early 1970’s as a theatrical troupe that toured Canada on Clydesdale powered covered wagons, before making the jump to the water in 1992 in order to broaden their audience reach. For the last two years the troupe has toured 19 nations in Europe conducting their production to crowds of 1,500 people who would settle in with wine and cheese along the parks and waterfronts of medieval harbors and ports. The productions are entirely free for their audience, with the troupe contracting and scheduling directly with marinas and municipalities and the shows always start exactly 30 minutes after sunset in order maximize the full effect of the theatrical lighting.
Last summer, the troupe settled in the surprised fishing village of Lafitte, Louisiana to work on their North American production and quickly won over the town by putting on their show while docked on the bayou. This summer their tour begins in Jacksonville, Florida where the full European and North American cast will meet and rehearse for a month before touring up the Eastern Seaboard beginning in June. Other stops in the Southeast include Beaufort, SC, Wilmington, NC and Portsmouth, VA before sailing to towns and cities all along the Hudson River, the Erie Barge Canal, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain. A return and tour of the Gulf Coast is expected in 2015 as they transit the Mississippi River and then the Ten-Tom and make the “Great Loop.” Discussions are already underway of hauling the Amara Zee out and trucking her across Texas and the deserts of the west in order to tour the West Coast in 2016.
Throughout their Gulf Coast transit, the troupe has been scouting locations along the way and have already set their sights on New Orleans’ West End, the marinas in Gulfport and Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Orange Beach, Alabama and multiple sites along the panhandle of Florida. Corpus Christi and Galveston, Texas are also strong possibilities. Because of their shallow draft, the Amara Zee is capable of setting up their production along most waterfront parks on the Gulf Coast. Private marinas and municipal harbors interested in hosting the troupe can contact the Caravan Stage Company via their website – caravanstage.org.
More images of the Caravan Stage Company can be found HERE.