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v c u arts students on stage

by Jaclyn Backhaus

November 11th – 14th, 2021

Director: Sharon Ott
Scenic Design: Alyssa Sutherland
Costume Design: Carolan Corcoran
Lighting Design: BJ Wilkinson
Sound Design: Thomas Vecchione
Production Stage Manager: Leica Long

MEN ON BOATS marked the department’s return to our mainstage in the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring of 2020. MEN ON BOATS was our first in-person production with a live audience in Raymond Hodges Theatre since February of 2020.

actors in costume


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.  

actors in costume with canyon graphic