TOUCHSTONE THEATRE’S GREAT CARAVAN FARM THEATRE – A Journal Entry

This summer Touchstone Theatre chartered a bus and took a group of theatre lovers into the beautiful interior of BC to experience the fabulous Caravan Farm Theatre. With two members of our office having taken in Caravan Farm Theatre shows in the past, we decided we wanted to help make this completely one-of-a-kind experience more accessible to our patrons here in Vancouver. For the initiated, Caravan Farm Theatre is a professional outdoor theatre company based on an 80 acre farm, 11Km NW of Armstrong BC. Hailed as a national treasure, it is one of Canada’s premiere professional outdoor theatre companies, and has been entertaining audiences young and old, from near and far, since 1978. There is no theatre building – just the great outdoors. Productions have been staged in nearly every corner of the farm – in a field, in the pines, in the barn or the riding ring. With shows ranging from classics like Shakespeare and Brecht to original works all infused with spectacle, high drama with honky-tonk, reflecting the rural experience back to the world with sophistication, complexity, boldness and originality (oh and they use horses in every production).

Helping stir our interest in making the trip was the fact that this year’s production was The Notorious Right Robert and His Robber Bride by Sean Dixon with music by Herald Nix. Described as a rip-snorting, heart-racing comedy, the production seemed like a sure crowd-pleaser – we couldn’t wait! After spreading word to the theatre community we had a small group ready to make the trek with us. Departing on the morning of August 23rd we headed out on HWY 1 and began the 6 hour drive to Armstrong. Making a couple of stops along the way for food and refreshments, and with trekkers getting lots of reading and knitting completed en route, we arrived at the Caravan Farm Theatre. We were greeted by the friendly staff, had the opportunity to take a quick look at the grounds and to drop off trekkers who were going camp at the site.

After a stop off to get set up at a nearby bed-and-breakfast we made our way into Armstrong to grab dinner before heading back to the grounds for the show. When we returned we were blown away by the fact that the parking lot was completely packed! It was pretty close to a sold-out show that night with approx. 400 people in attendance. We picked up our tickets at a colourfully-painted Box Office and made our way in. Each Caravan production takes place on a different part of the farm. Right Robertwas set up on a wide open space where they had set up steeply raked bleachers to for the audience. With open sky above and no red curtain in sight, a simple wooden floorboard stage was constructed on the ground in front of the risers. The set was ingeniously designed so that the settings could be changed by slotting doorframes and signage into the floor and by bringing in different props and furnishings by horse! The production also involved use of the locale, the most thrilling being car chases that circled through the site and gun-fights with actors taking cover behind trees, shrubs and even the bandstand. There was even a guest appearance by a bat, which proceeded to swoop throughout the play chasing bugs. Highlighted by strong performances, with lots of physical comedy and a very unconventional love story, the show finished to an enthusiastic ovation. People drifted towards the exit, pausing to watch the horses being fed and unbridled and to thank the Caravan staff for the experience. Once the crowds had cleared, out the cast and crew and some friends capped their night with a sing-along jam session in the cook shack, featuring mandolin, guitar, banjo and even the spoons!

Trekkers staying at the Bed and Breakfast were greeted with a sumptuous morning meal and then packed their things and headed back to the farm where we were taken on a comprehensive tour of the site by Caravan Farm Theatre’s Artistic Director Courtenay Dobbie. She shared with us some of the history of the company, showed us various sites they have used for productions, The Designery – a farm studio where they design and make sets and costumes – and the small cabins that the cast and crew reside in during the run of the show. We were left with a better understanding of what it is like to run theatre outdoors on an 80 acre farm just outside of Armstrong BC.

Touchstone will be undertaking another Great Caravan Farm Theatre Trek in August of 2013, if you are interested in finding out more about that you can sign up for our e-newsletter and check out this page for details. Check out a full gallery of photos from the Trek on our Facebook page here.

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