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The caravan is coming to northern California; it's horse-drawn theater, down from Canada. Watch for it now to early October.

The caravan is coming to northern California It's the real McCoy, this roadside apparition of painted wagons and stately Clydesdales. Making its own slow but magical progress through summer, the horse-drawn Caravan Stage Company, a one-of-a-kind troupe from British Columbia, tours northern California now unitl early October, bringing its special kind of theater to townfolk from Redding to Sunnyvale. It this group, bystanders may glimpse an all-but-forgotten way of life--and art.

Ambling into town with a jingle of harness music, these friendly theatrical gypsies go into their set-up routines. The big horses are watered and fed. Hay must be fetched and wood stcked for cooking the communal meals on an open fire. Props must be mustered and poles put up to rig the great 100-foot canvas enclosure where the Caravan puts on its show, The Coyotes--described by its director as "a commedia Western with serious overtones" and by its program as (an adventurous comic howl."

Playgoers bring blankets or cusions and sit on the ground inside the circular tent. The play happens all around them; they become "audience in the round."

Designed as family entertainment, with lively (and very interesting) original music and much physical comedy, the show involves masks and dance as well as elements of melodrama. Its script concerns an attempt by urban speculators to drive farm folk off their land, the corruption of nature by civilization. The show is played boardly, but the opening-of-the-season audience we joined loved every minute: youngsters had to be restrained from jimping forth to caper with the coyotes. Now midway through a three-year tour supported in large part by the Canadian government, Caravan Stage has traveled through Washington and Pregon to perform in California--see the schedule on page 14. The group will head north again in spring, to join Vancouverhs Expo 86.

Glimpsing a bygone way of life

Horse-drawn theater is nothing new in the West; the road show, with its dust and painted canvas, may be our oldest dramtic Form. The Caravan Stage is unique today, but of an old tradition. What makes this group special is the total fabric of its work, which involves a life of transformation. Each company member has at least two identities. Actors drive the Clydes or serve as outriders on saddle horses, controlling traffic with hand-held signs. Musicians pound in stkes to raise the huge tent, carried in the wagons. Masked, a schoolteacher (five children travel with the company) plays the part of a coyote. The camp cook becomes a pig. Only the Clydes seem to get time off from theater.

The five wagons themselves, backed into the circle, become stages where action is variously focused in different scenes of the play--one wagon is a coyotes' den, another a farmhouse kitchen, and so on. Even the tent serves two purposes: inside, it's a theater; outside, it's an art show.

These people not only look like a vanished way of life, they live it. On the road, the lead wagon becomes a schoolroom for Caravan kids. As the big Clydes clop, the murmur of phonics drills sounds inside the painted walls. The lessons are observed by a resident cockatiel perching on, not in, its cage. As pages turn and the road goes by, a carved inscription sways on the wagon's wall. It reads: "Gypsy gold does not clink or glitter. It shines in the sun and neighs in the night."

The schedule. Specifics may change, so call (415) 821-9652 (or write to 1326 Shotwell St., San Francisco 94110) to confirm bookings and learn locations. Ticket prices vary by location, averaging $3 to $6.

July 11, 12, and 13: Fairfield. July 17: Rio Vista. July 19, 20, and 21: Pittsburg. July 26, 27, and 28: Martinez. August 2, 3, and 4: Hayward/Fremont. August 9 and 10: Sunnyvale. August 15, 16, 17, and 18: Palo Alto. August 22 through September 2: San Francisco. September 5, 6, 7, and 8: Berkeley. September 13, 14, and 15: San Anselmo/san Rafel. September 20, 21, and 22: Novato/Petaluma. September 27, 28, and 29: Santa Rosa. October 4, 5, and 6: Sonoma.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Aug 1, 1985
Words:682
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