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MEN ON BOATS by Jaclyn Backhaus

actors in costume with graphic of men on boats


By Jaclyn Backhaus

Directed By Sharon Ott

Performances November 11th – 14th.
Thursday 11/11 @ 8:00pm
Friday 11/12 @ 8:00pm
Saturday 11/13 @ 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 11/14 @ 2:00pm & 8:00pm

Ten explorers. Four boats. One Grand Canyon. MEN ON BOATS is the true(ish) history of an 1869 expedition, when a one-armed captain and a crew of insane yet loyal volunteers set out to chart the course of the Colorado River—reimagined with gender-expansive, racially diverse casting.

Off the canyon walls funny” – Variety

You will surely want to spend time with the hearty title characters of MEN ON BOATS…The tone is comic, but never cute or camp. And ultimately, you feel the play respects its bold if fallible pioneers, in all their natural bravery and foolishness.” -New York Times

This production marks the department’s return to Raymond Hodges Theatre since the pandemic closed theatres worldwide in spring of 2020— our first in-person production with a live audience inside the Singleton Center in almost two years!


Men on Boats is a meticulously researched play that aims to be only “accurate-ish.” Men on Boats is based on the published diary of John Wesley Powell who was hired by the United States Government to map the unexplored West. The story follows a band of ten men piled into four boats as they journey down the Green and Colorado rivers, during a period of American expansion that was justified through the widely held cultural belief in “Manifest Destiny.” While Backhaus’ script remains faithful to the narrative of Powell’s writings, there are two notable changes for the purposes of storytelling—the use of a modern speech and the casting.   

Men on Boats employs an identity-conscious casting model which creates a unique critique of the ways our histories have failed to capture the full story. In spite of the title, the playwright’s directions are clear— “the characters in Men on Boats were historically cisgender white males. The cast should be made up of people who are not. I’m talking about a racially diverse actors who are female-identifying, trans-identifying, genderfluid, and/or non-gender-conforming.” Such casting allows Men on Boats to utilize the power of camp, comedy, and dramatic reimagining to offer an insightful dialogue on the intersections of race, class, gender, and indignity as they relate to our understanding of America’s difficult history.  


Performances will take place in the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts located at 922 Park Ave.

Masks will be required for all audience members.

MEN ON BOATS has a run time of about ninety minutes with no intermission and contains simulated gun shots.

Parking: There is a paid parking deck located at Harrison and Broad. You can also use public street parking which follows Richmond City regulations.

Please contact us with questions. / 804-828-1514