Their coats gleam against the brown dirt, dotted with the green moss of the paddock.
One tilts his long-maned head where a heavily fringed eye focusses on us humans in the distance. He comes closer, those giant hooves —the size of dinner plates— clip clopping towards us; the ground literally thumping as he nears.
Now a hand’s distance away, the striking Clydesdale leans his white blaze and black-tipped nose in for a nuzzle. Our hands instinctively reach out to stroke his auburn fur.
A member of two new teams now living at Caravan Farm Theatre in Spallumcheen, three-year-old Spike is a friendly giant, while his shyer teammate, Frenchie, also three, lingers in the background content to graze.
This is quiet time for the horses. With their brand, new shoes installed just that morning, they are getting ready for what the farm’s Clydesdales, and other visiting horses, have been doing for years: hauling sleighs full of merry theatre patrons for Caravan’s popular winter production.
The other new team, consisting of eight-year-olds Jack and Sunny, are about to return to the farm after being trained by their handlers.
All four draught horses have come to Caravan courtesy of a campaign which was initially started last year to purchase just one team. However, enough money was raised for another team. Caravan’s latest campaign is to build the horses a new barn.
“Three of our older generation horses retired, so we needed to replace them,” said Courtenay Dobbie, Caravan’s artistic director.
Looking out to the pasture where a new shelter has been built thanks to the sale of a CD by the cast of this past summer’s production, Head Over Heels, Dobbie’s gaze moves to another part of the field. It’s where Luke, one of Caravan’s stalwart Clydes, died in September.
“Right before he died, Luke broke the tree that he loved to use as a scratching post. Now all the horses like to use the part that’s left to scratch themselves on.”
The memory of Luke will live on at this year’s winter sleigh ride production, Little Brother, Little Sister, which previews Tuesday and runs for three shows nightly all the way to Jan. 4, past the normal Dec. 31 cutoff (with a few days off for the holidays.)
It promises to be the perfect affair for the whole family, and a great way to show off the farm’s new teams, said Dobbie.
With the idea to stage an adaptation of a Brothers Grimm fairytale, Dobbie commissioned Toronto actor/playwright Adam Underwood, who has acted in some past Caravan shows, to write the script.
“It was nice to find a playwright who has been here and knows the format of a winter show. He knew to make way for the journey between the scenes and has made a route that dramaturgically supports the story,” she said. “The winter show can be tricky. We need to keep it simple as it’s challenging with the audience in sleighs and to improve sight lines. We normally get 8,000 people coming to the shows.”
A modern spin on a lesser-known Grimm fairytale, Little Brother, Little Sister has a few similar themes to Hansel and Gretel, in that it features siblings who go wandering off in the woods. But that’s where the similarities end.
In this case, the pair runs away to escape their evil guardian, a witch named Ms. Grindle, played by Calgary’s Elinor Holt who is back after playing the much nicer Harquevari in this summer’s Head Over Heels.
“As they flee to the forest to escape, she puts a spell on a babbling brook. Anyone who drinks from the brook will turn into a fawn,” said Dobbie.
Even though he is warned not to do so, Little Brother can’t help himself and —no spoiler here— he drinks from the brook. Oh, and the curse cannot be reversed.
“This one is about the love between a brother and a sister and the difference between siblings,” said Dobbie. “It is very focussed on him and her… Little Sister is the straightest out of all of all of them. She grows up and matures. It shows that hand-in-hand, the older we get, the more we excel and learn to tolerate.”
Coming in to direct the show is Anita Rochon of Vancouver’s The Chop Theatre, who has previously co-directed the farm’s Walk of Terror for Halloween. This is her first time directing a winter production at Caravan.
New to the farm is set director Drew Facey, whose design team has created a storybook feel to the story in the same vein as Where the Wild Things Are, sans beasts, well except for one young deer.
“We’re having fun with the fawn element,” said Dobbie, adding, “Each set has a curtain that’s drawn to reveal the scene for the element of surprise.”
Also new to the Caravan crew is costume designer Deitra Kalyn of Calgary as well as cast member Chris Cochrane as King Roland, ruler of the land and also love interest to Little Sister.
Fellow newcomers Rebecca Auerbach and Daniel Doheny play Little Sister, Little Brother, respectively, while Donna Soares is Salma, the stepsister and one half of the wicked duo with Ms. Grindle.
Last, but not least, is bumbling but lovable narrator Babbling Brook, played by Bruce Horak, who was in Vernon last winter with his one-man play This is Cancer and also took on the role as the egotistical idiot Bull Withers in Caravan’s 2012 summer production of The Notorious Robber Right and His Robber Bride.
“It’s a treat to have some new people along with some of our previous cast and crew; it adds a different aesthetic,” said Dobbie.
Audiences will be able to meet the real stars of the show as they are pulled along in those sleighs, laughing all the way.
Tickets for Caravan Farm Theatre’s winter sleigh ride production of Little Brother, Little Sister are going fast. Contact the Ticket Seller at 250-549-7469 or at www.ticketseller.ca to book.