Caravan Stage develops traveling pirate show in Lafitte

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Pirates are again gathering and plotting in Lafitte. The shipborne theater group Caravan Stage Company is docked along the Intracoastal Waterway where crew members are developing a pirate-themed musical/circus arts show it will unveil in spring and take on a tour up the East Coast to Canada, the Great Lakes and downriver into the Ohio Valley.

Caravan Stage last docked in Lafitte in 2002 before embarking on a similar odyssey. For the last eight years, the group has toured Europe, starting in Rotterdam and going as far south as the Greece and Turkey. It presented a trilogy about global climate change and indigenous cultures, and its most recent show was the beginning of a new series about piracy. It concluded with the pirates stealing a treasure of gold from a bank, which they intend to redistribute around the globe Robin Hood-style. In the beginning of the forthcoming show Hacked...The Treasure of the Empire, the pirates and the treasure are captured. But it's also a modern story, with themes about the surveillance state, computer hacking and mammoth global corporations.

The Amara Zee is docked in Lafitte while crew develop a new production.
  • The Amara Zee is docked in Lafitte while crew develop a new production.

Caravan Stage travels with a crew of 18-24 onboard, including boat and technical crew and performers. The company seeks to present its multi-media and musical spectaculars to new audiences. Shows combine video, light projections, puppets, singing, aerialists and acrobats, and they use the boat and its riggings as a stage. The shows are spectacle-driven (think Cirque de Soleil on a ship), but themes are often progressive (ie about the loss of indigenous cultures, preservation of natural resources, pro-democracatization). (The company website has photos and video of past tours.) As choreographers develop the movement for the new show, the tech crew is designing a mini-roller coaster that will be stretch between the masts and be a main feature in Hacked.

Caravan Stage was founded by Paul Kirby and Adriana Kelder in 1970. The two met while working in the alternative press in Montreal, Canada, but they moved to western Canada to start a traveling puppet and musical theater company. For 20 years, they grew as a Clydesdale horse-drawn caravan, presenting alternative theatrical performances across Canada and the United States. Eventually, they decided to shed the limitations of fitting their shows on horse-drawn wagons and undertook to build their boat, the Amara Zee.

"We're a pauper theater company," Kirby says.

It took four years to build their vessel and they secured donations of equipment from roughly 700 companies to outfit it. The flat-bottomed boat is a Thames sailing barge design, and it's not meant for ocean voyages — the flat bottom allows them to dock in areas best-suited to reach audiences. They generally ask cities and festivals to pay for the shows and offer them to local audiences for free.

The boat had to be shipped back from Europe in June, and it arrived in Houston in mid-July. The crew then sailed it to Lafitte, where it has been docked for 12 days. The current crew includes a polyglot mix of North Americans and Europeans from the most recent tour, and more will join the group as it prepares to embark on its 2014 tour.

The Caravan crew hangs out in the main living space below deck.
  • The Caravan crew hangs out in the main living space below deck.

The crew expects to host an open house and preview of material in Hacked in late September.

At the conclusion of the 2014 tour, the boat will return to Houston and be loaded onto trucks for its first over-land tour across Texas and the Southwest. It's eventual destination is the Puget Sound in Washington State.

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