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All the world’s a stage

New mobile performance space fostering art in Whistler and beyond
Red Chair performs on XL Audio Visual’s new mobile stage during this month’s Art on the Lake event in Whistler.

Andrew Bowes has long dreamed of having a mobile stage at his disposal, never believing he’d actually own one.

But that changed late in 2022.

The owner of XL Audio Visual in Whistler was scrolling Facebook for a cargo trailer, but discovered a “perfect-sized unit” in the Mission area that could be used as a mobile stage—though that’s not how the sellers originally designed the prototype.

“Their idea was to build a rec vehicle for hunting and fishing folks,” he says. “It was going to be a trailer that folded out to a platform that could be, basically, their base camp when they were out in the wilderness.

“The structure actually has a full-cover roof and a full, flat floor raised off the ground.”

Bowes knew from the photos that the unit could fulfil his dream of on-the-go entertainment and, after a brief bidding war with a potential buyer more interested in its original purpose, secured the one-of-a-kind vehicle.

After bringing the trailer up the Sea to Sky in October, Bowes completed some upgrades and had it ready to go for the summer season. To date, there have been a dozen bookings, including nine for the Hear & Now concert series and the recent Flag Stop Theatre and Arts Festival.

While the unit’s relatively compact size make it an option where other vehicles aren’t, it still can be a bit of a squeeze getting to the destination, Bowes says.

“Sometimes getting into some of these tight Whistler parks takes some time,” he says. “Getting it to the spaces that we’re getting it in is the hardest part of the job.”

While the trailer can open from either side or the back, Bowes has only utilized the side-open option to date, creating a stage that’s 14 feet across and 31 feet deep, making it ideal for four- or five-piece bands.

Bowes estimates it takes an hour to set up the stage itself, and then one to two hours to prepare for the show, which is minimal when considering other options.

“When you compare it to the alternative of renting tents and installing stage decking, it’s very labour-effective and cost-effective,” he says. “We can roll in and out of a gig within eight hours, and that’s typically a multi-day task.”

Rolling on

The stage represents something of a full-circle revolution for Bowes. He started XL as a side project while working as a carpenter, evolving it from a DJ service to facilitating live music and eventually into a full-time, special-event AV business servicing concerts, festivals, corporate events and conferences.

It has been a satisfying return to live entertainment, a grasp at reclaiming the company’s strong trajectory right before the pandemic, that saw it taking on more events, new clients and fresh equipment.

“The stage has relit that area of the business, boosted that up,” Bowes says. “During COVID, there wasn’t a whole lot of that happening. We not only lost that entertainment work, but we also lost our meetings work.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to weather the storm.”

While the stage has provided the company with live-music offerings for the moment, it can also grow into so much more. A recent turn as an entertainment booth at Mission Raceway Park has inspired Bowes to consider offering it for use at other sporting events like motocross or snowmobiling, either as an entertainment centre, expo booth or repair space. Bowes muses that a skate park tour could be in order someday.

“(I’m hoping to) come up with almost like a Warped Tour-style package where we would travel around and there’s partnerships with skate brands or something of the like,” he says. “I think it would be a huge hit, because we haven’t seen anything like that in a number of years.”

Delving further, it could serve as a lounge or children’s play area, food service, or a glamping setup as a private rental.

“I nicknamed it the mobile space station, because it kind of looks a bit like the International Space Station … or a satellite,” Bowes says.

Bowes is hoping to install a heating system to make winter shows a possibility, but for now, you can see it for yourself the next two Sundays at Rebagliati Park hosting Kostaman and the Good Vibrations on Aug. 26 and The Big Love Band on Sept. 3. Both shows are free and start at 1 p.m.