Now that we are home again, I will reveal what my dear husband did during most of December.
Caravan Farm Theatre has been in operation in various incarnations since the 1970s. It began as a peripatetic show, travelling by horse-drawn caravan through the southern interior of BC. My dh can remember the theatre coming through Greenwood long ago. But for the past few decades, the company has made its home on a farm in the north Okanagan, between Armstrong and Spallumcheen. And through a fortunate series of connections slowly forged over many years, we have become friends with some members of the company. For the past few years, the invitations to dh to come and work at the winter show have been pressing indeed. He was flattered and intrigued, but never felt that he could leave me and the ranch and logging for long enough to be able to justify it. This year, however, he suddenly realized that this might be his last chance: he’s not getting any younger, and teamstering is physically demanding. The horses aren’t getting any younger either, and Oscar and Ivy, at 21 and 19 respectively, are getting close to the end of their working lives and dh would never ask them to work beyond their physical limitations. And dh is now more or less retired from horse logging, so he had a little more time to spend on this adventure than he would have had in the past.
But it hasn’t been an easy fall for us, and dh was torn: take this opportunity rather than regretting never having given it a shot? or stay home and keep things going on the ranch? In the end, he left it up to me (thanks, hon). I thought he should go and said so and therefore he went. And am I ever glad he did.
Yes, the winter chores are a pain in the neck, and I didn’t enjoy having to race through them and get to work and race home to do them again before dark. And yes, I missed my husband. So did the dogs and cats (the horses care only that they’re fed and watered). But as soon as dh got to Caravan, the enthusiasm in his voice and his excitement about all that he was seeing and doing and the people he was meeting completely convinced me that we’d made the right decision.
For two weeks I listened to him talk about the amazing and kind people in the company. He tried to describe the unusual and positive atmosphere of Caravan as a place of work, and as he described the interactions among actors, teamsters, cooks, shotguns, administrative staff, and production crew, I realized that this didn’t sound anything like the kind of ego trip incubator that one apparently often encounters in theatre. He said that everyone eats together, everyone does their own dishes, everyone has a story, and everyone seems more than happy to enfold a middle-aged horse logger into the midst of the drama. He was eager for me to come up and see for myself, so on the 23rd, after my last day of work, I drove from Greenwood to the farm.
And I had my camera with me. I got to the farm in the middle of the afternoon, as the snow came tumbling down, and happily wandered around looking at everything, meeting new people who went out of their way to help me find my husband, and being welcomed into the Caravan experience just as my dh had been.
Here’s how it works. Caravan is a non-profit society whose purpose is to provide original, live theatre to the north Okanagan. The company mounts a big production every year, an original musical often written by someone connected to the company. This is the summer show, and it’s the main event of the year. But every winter, a second, smaller play (again, an original script) is performed over the last three weeks of December. As with the summer show, horses are a crucial part of the production, but with a difference. In the summer show, the horses are integral to the story line: they almost become characters in the play. Certainly, the actors, some of them at least, ride horses in every show. But in the winter, the show takes place on several stages dotted around the farm, mostly in the field. And the audience is conveyed from scene to scene by horse-drawn wagon or sleigh. It’s a big undertaking. The wagons and sleighs each carry twenty people, and this year there are six wagons and three sleighs.
I finally tracked down my dear husband in the sprawling, luxury lodgings known as the Music Shack.
That last photo shows the handiwork of the critters that share this shack with the human inhabitants: squirrels store their pine cones in the space between the ceiling and the roof, and as you can see, they’ve enlarged the knotholes in the walls to make viewing holes. We hear them most nights, but fortunately I have yet to see one staring in at me. Rustic accommodations? You bet. But comfortable and easy to keep warm and not all that much different, truth be told, from home. Funky, but fun. It helped that most of what goes on at Caravan when the company isn’t actively working happens in the cook shack, a warm and cosy space big enough for everyone to find a place on one of the benches at the big farm tables. No need to spend hours holed up in one’s shack, unless one chooses to do so.
But back to the shack. Oh, dh and I were so happy to see each other. But it was time to start getting the horses ready for the first of the day’s shows, so we headed down from the shack to the corrals where Ivy and Oscar were waiting. I followed dh around as he began his preparations for the first show of the day. The route from the shack to the pen where Oscar and Ivy spend their downtime takes us through the centre of activity as the teamsters begin to harness their teams. It was snowing pretty hard, as you can see.
When I caught up to dh after snapping random photos of the activity going on, he had already tied the horses to the trailer and given them a good brushing. The routine is always the same. After the brushing, dh carries the collars out of the trailer, where the harness and rigging are stored, to begin harnessing the team.
See the wagon in the background? I couldn’t help but notice the clever idea for the handholds at the back.
See how dh has to stretch to get the rigging over Oscar’s back? Dh is six feet tall, so that should give you a sense of how tall the horses are.
Once Oscar is harnessed, it’s Ivy’s turn.
At this point, dh’s wagon was the designated vehicle for audience members with mobility issues. Dh parked the wagon close to the set for the first scene, so that people who needed to could sit in the wagon to watch. You can see it, the seats covered with a white tarp against the snow, on the left side of the top photo in this post. Other audience members stand beside the bonfire to watch the first scene, and then walked behind the front-of-house manager to the next scene in the timber-framed structure known as the rain venue. After that, it was everyone onto the wagons and sleighs and out we headed to the field for the rest of the show.
That’s the first set in the background, the orphanage where the play begins. And that’s all I’m going to show you of the play, because I don’t want to infringe on Caravan’s copyright. You’ll just have to buy tickets to next year’s show to see the 2017 production, which will be something entirely different. But don’t hesitate; this year’s show sold out well before opening night. For many locals, seeing the winter show and riding the sleighs and wagons, is an essential part of Christmas. Just think of it: twenty people per wagon or sleigh, times nine, is 180 people per show, times three shows each night once the run is in full swing, makes over 500 people each night seeing the show. And this is a rural community. Admittedly, larger centres such as Salmon Arm, Vernon, and Kamloops are all within an hour’s drive, but that just means that people are committed enough to the show to drive in the dark and whatever winter weather is happening to see the play. Pretty impressive.
This post is meant to give you just a taste of the day-to-day winter routine at Caravan, a taste of what dh’s life over the past month has been like. The next post will show you how things change once it gets dark and the show begins.