Nov. 9, 2021
The Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts will present “Men on Boats,” a gender-expansive reimagination of the 1869 expedition of the Green and Colorado rivers to the Grand Canyon as documented by John Wesley Powell. This production marks the Department of Theatre’s return to the Raymond Hodges Theater for in-person performances for the first time since February 2020.
Performances will take place Nov. 11-14 at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Ave. Masks will be required for all audience members and no food or drink will be permitted.
“Men on Boats” is a meticulously researched play that aims to be only “accurate-ish.” Based on the published diary of John Wesley Powell, who was hired by the U.S. government to map the unexplored West, the story follows a band of 10 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 Jaclyn Backhaus’ script remains faithful to the narrative of Powell’s writings, there are two notable changes for the purposes of storytelling — the use of modern speech and the casting.
“Men on Boats” employs an identity-conscious casting model that 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,” Backhaus said. “The cast should be made up of people who are not. I’m talking about racially diverse actors who are female-identifying, trans-identifying, gender fluid 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.
Tickets range from $5-$15. Discounts are available for students, seniors and VCU faculty, staff and alumni. Tickets can be purchased at vcutheatre.showclix.com or by calling the main office at (804) 828-1514.
“Men on Boats” has a run time of about 90 minutes without intermission. Content warning: “Men on Boats” contains simulated gunshots.
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