North Okanagan's Caravan Farm Theatre really did start as a horse-drawn wagon show

Caravan's colourful history

During an unpredictable year, the Caravan Farm Theatre has been a model of adaptability. With strong and responsive COVID-19 safety protocols in place, the theatre has once again sold out its popular winter sleigh ride show.

The Caravan Farm Theatre, now located on an 80-acre property near Armstrong, actually began as a travelling troupe in the 1970s – hence the title of “Caravan.” The horse-drawn touring company put on a variety of productions for rural communities throughout B.C. and Alberta up until 1983. 

In 1985, the troupe split, with half deciding to continue touring internationally as the “Caravan Stage Company” and the other half deciding to settle on the North Okanagan property to form “Caravan Farm Theatre.” One of their first productions was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” held outdoors and with audience participation.

In the '80s and '90s, the theatre became known for its large-scale, high-quality productions, with a special emphasis on the works of Shakespeare and Brecht. The Caravan’s focus on Shakespeare was particularly natural. In Shakespeare’s era, plays were expected to be versatile, at times being shown in an outdoor playhouse, at other times an indoor theatre (hence his famous quote, “the whole world is a stage.”)

Similarly, Caravan’s productions were, and are, staged outdoors at different settings, allowing the audience to experience an immersive journey.  

The Caravan Farm Theatre carried forward this momentum and ingenuity into the 21st century.

Their infamous Walk of Terror launched in the early 2000s, and at Christmas time the winter sleigh ride is often sold out far in advance of December. Although this year things will be a little different – with tickets sold to “bubbles” instead of individuals, and plexiglass barriers separating one bubble from another – the magic of Christmas, and of attending a production by this innovative local theatre group, is sure to endure. 

As for the Caravan Stage Company, they too are still going strong, but their stage has experienced a bit of an upgrade: while they still use their traditional horse-drawn wagons to stage productions across North America and into Europe, they perform most of their acts aboard a 30-metre sailboat called the Amara Zee, which relaunched just this year after being dry-docked for two years of repairs. 

Gwyneth Evans is community engagement co-ordinator with the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.

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