My bag is packed, ticket is booked, I’m on my way to Bivalve. Where is Bivalve you may ask? An excellent question. It’s in the state of New Jersey. That is all I can tell you up until this point.
I spent nine weeks working on the video design for the Caravan earlier this year. Unfortunately I had to ship out before the show opened in Florida. I handed off the design work that I had done up to that point so I never saw it incorporated into the performance. Fast forward to over a month later and our paths are close to crossing again. I simply need to bump my trajectory.
I make it to my second to last stop and transfer, a place called Cape May. The women working at the tourist information centre, who I assume is a local, has never even heard of Bivalve. Finally, after 15 hours of subways, buses, trains, and automobiles, I have arrived. There she is – the Amara Zee.
The crew has worked long hours today, and for many days before this. It’s dark, there is still much work to be done, and the bugs have arrived for their nightly human buffet. Miraculously, somehow I am greeted with the most amazing cheer. There is a sudden outpouring of love, appreciation, and excitement for my arrival. What have I done to deserve these people’s love and respect? I’ll cherish that, always.
The Amara Zee rises from the water like Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, both belonging to a bygone era. She is not built for the depths of the sea, rather a vessel for the fantasy world. Cables explode from the ship in all directions like the tentacles of a monstrous sea creature. The slowly swaying silhouette of the mast extends skywards to be met by a starless night, and only the faintest shimmer of moonlight. The Amara Zee commands a special presence wherever she is found. The water is calm, the streets are empty, and the most interesting ship in the world has arrived in Bivalve, New Jersey.
The crew has braved two intense storms on the open water to get here. I faced the far more daunting feat of navigating rural New Jersey. They have been bathed in salt water, rung out, and left to dry in the sun. There is always some kind of squall on the horizon, but they batten down the hatches and weather the storm. Each obstacle becomes a triumph that lifts the spirits of the crew in time for the next hurtle. Things have changed since I left them in the comforts of Jacksonville, Florida. This crew has transformed from a ramshackle assortment of international bohemians into a hardened, supportive ensemble.
I learn that my friends the kettle and the toaster met with the unfortunate fate of walking the plank due to their overwhelming thirst for power. I salute their memory, and boil water for tea over an open flame. I go to sleep in the same bunk I had when this whole adventure began. When the sun is up I get a better look at the area. Bivalve was once a community built on a thriving oyster industry. Those days have long since past. The weathered wood structure of the facility is like a cousin to the deck of the Amara Zee. The Amara Zee’s cook, and resident music aficionado, shows me a historical display depicting Bivalve’s more flavoured past. The community once hosted a myriad of musical performers. I’m dying to know what bands like “Stranger from Arizona” or “The Condemned Women” sounded like.
The next two nights slip away far too quickly. I may only be visiting but I’m pulled into setting up the show the same as everyone else. The day consists of hard work, the night consists of revelry. It is nerve-racking to see how my design has developed without me. Each night I am hustling up until the last minute, and after each show I try to make improvements. There are challenges and triumphs on both nights, all the more reason to celebrate afterwords. I am reminded again and again just how much fun these people can be. Just when you think the party is over, someone whips out a guitar and plays an original song. Just when you think the energy is dying down, a dance party ensues. What a time to be alive.
I’ve already gone on for far too long, so I’ll leave you with this. The Caravan Stage company is one of the most interesting, talented, and diverse groups of individuals that you will probably never get the chance to meet. However, if you see them in the distance, be sure to change your heading for an intercept course. It’s well worth the trip. Tonight I’m sleeping in the comfort of my bed at home, but it’s no substitute for a bunk on board the Amara Zee.