Broadway this ain't: At Caravan Farm Theatre, there are dogs wandering everywhere (even on-stage every now and then during a show) and lots of children: a purple Exersaucer takes up a corner of the production office. The sound of horses whinnying can drown out a moment of rehearsal or conversation. And one must watch where one steps. "You have to walk through horse [dung]to get to work in the morning," says Stephen Drover, one of the Vancouver director/writers involved in Everyone. "Like, literally."
Located on an 80-acre farm in Spalumcheen, B.C. about a 10-minute drive from Armstrong, Caravan is owned and operated by the non-profit Bill Miner Society for Cultural Advancement. Its mandate is to produce meaningful, populist theatre. Past shows have included Macbeth, Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, as well as original productions.
Starting off as a one-wagon puppet show in 1970, they've been on the farm since 1978, originally as the Caravan Stage Company. Initially a travelling theatre experience, the horse-drawn caravans would slowly make their way from town to town, and shows would be presented across B.C., Alberta, even Ontario and parts of the U.S.
But when there was disagreement over whether to continue as a travelling company or put down deeper roots on the farm, there was a split: Founders Paul Kirby and Adriana (Nans) Kelder continued on the road and the others stayed put. Under the leadership of artistic director Nick Hutchinson, Caravan Farm Theatre was established in 1984.
"It was quite like a divorce," says Catherine Hahn, a designer who has been with the company since 1978 and continues to work with both factions - on the farm and with the travelling company (which now stages shows on a 30-meter long barge; this summer they're touring the Adriatic Sea). "It wasn't much fun. And everybody felt that way, including the people that went."
For many of the players, Caravan is a multigenerational experience. Estelle Shook has been artistic director for 12 years, but she's been around since she was a child. Her mother joined the company in 1979 as a cook, and later worked with the horses.
Actor Marten Julien has been travelling to the farm from Toronto most summers - and one winter - since 1997, when his sons were 3 and 8. This year he's sharing the stage with his younger son and his 14-year old stepdaughter, who both appear in Everyone.
"I have made a conscious decision to come here and I have turned down potential opportunities elsewhere," he says. "It was the right decision. My agent may disagree. But it's not country bumpkin stuff; it's not amateur theatre; it's not community theatre. ... This is highly-disciplined, professional theatre. It is a surprise, out here in the middle of nowhere."