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Mast appeal: Caravan Stage presents Nomadic Tempest 

A seafaring theater company stages a production about climate change May 19-21

Caravan Stage uses its ship, Amara Zee, as a stage for its productions.

Caravan Stage uses its ship, Amara Zee, as a stage for its productions.

Nomadic Tempest is an epic tale of four monarch butterflies from disparate corners of the globe, displaced by climate change, searching for a new home.

  Monarchs are a fitting metaphor for climate refugees, says company founder Paul Kirby.

  "The funny thing about monarchs is that they're migrants," Kirby says. "They fly from central Mexico and the Sierras — they cross the Rio Grande — all the way up to Canada. It takes five generations of monarchs to complete the journey."

  Monarchs also are good meta-phors for Caravan Stage Company, a troupe that lives on a ship and has spent decades traveling the waterways of the U.S. and Canada (plus years in Europe) presenting theatrical spectacles from its boat's deck and riggings wherever they dock. They're also nomadic in that they rarely play twice to the same audience.

  Caravan premiered Nomadic Tempest in St. Petersburg, Florida in April, and after a slow journey hugging the Gulf Coast, it presents the show May 19-21 at Pontchartrain Landing. After the run, Caravan sails to Beaumont, Texas, and ultimately will be transported to Vancouver, Canada, where the company was founded 45 years ago by Kirby and Adriana Kelder.

  The Amara Zee is a 90-foot-tall replica of a flat-bottom Thames River sailing barge. A crew of 17 performers and boat staff live on the vessel. When it docks, they hang a massive scrim (a gauzy curtain) from the masts, and performances combine theater, singing, aerialists hanging from the riggings and light and video projections. In Nomadic Tempest, four aerialists play butterflies, and Kanandra is a character and narrator who spends some of the show on land among the audience. Kanandra has the gift of prophecy, but the SwallowWarts have placed a curse on her so that no one will believe what she says.

  Caravan was founded in western Canada as a company that traveled by horse-drawn wagons and presented its shows in a tent. Since the early 1970s, the company has traveled by boat. Its founders always wanted to perform outside and challenge themselves to capture its audience's attention with spec-tacle. Shows incorporate circus performance skills and video and graphics projected onto the scrim.

  "We have to use visual tricks," Kirby says. "We realized we have a large drive-in theater."

  The company also addresses contemporary topics, such as climate change., and the fossil fuel industry figures in the Nomadic Tempest story. Kirby believes topical issues attract both audiences and performers.

  Lindsay Sherman joined the company two years ago, after graduating from a performing arts conservatory.

  "The activist messages attracted me to Caravan," she says.

  Auditioning on a boat was unconventional, and her training hadn't prepared her for all aspects of the company. She was seasick on her first trip up the Hudson River from New York. She says the recent journey on the Gulf was no problem.

  The trip to New Orleans is a sort of homecoming. The town of Lafitte is officially the Amara Zee's home port. The company docked in Lafitte for several months in 2013 and 2014 while developing the show Hacked, which featured a band of hackers. Kirby conceptualized it as a pirate story.

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