Men on Boats
By Jaclyn Backhaus
October 28th - 30th, 2021
In 1869, ten explorers set off to chart the Green and Colorado Rivers, under the guidance of Major John Wesley Powell. The great Powell Geographic Expedition docks in the Showcase Theatre at Sam Houston State University’s Department of Theatre and Musical Theatre October 28-30, 2021 with 7:30 p.m. showings each evening as well as a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee option. While playwright Jaclyn Backhaus charted the course for her play Men On Boats, she realized that she herself could never have been a nineteenth-century explorer, that the experiences of her characters could never have been her own. This inspired her to include a casting note: “The characters in Men On Boats were historically cisgender white males. The cast should be made up entirely 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.” Men on Boats offers a refreshingly different perspective on American history.
A hilarious and delightful adventure, Men On Boats gives voice and movement to actors who subvert white male histories. The bravery, determination, foolishness, humanity, and true grit of the historical explorers is memorialized with sincere commentary on the hard truths that shaped our history. Along the way they make friends, they get on each other’s nerves, they suffer loss of boat and supplies, they doubt, struggle, and name mountains after themselves, they posture and pretend, they quit while they’re ahead, and they repeatedly brave dangerous rapids to reach the other side. As boats capsize and supplies are lost, as belts tighten and nerves fray, the company draws together as a band of…brothers?
As is the case with most historic accounts, Powell’s well-documented expedition honors only one side – his side. It conveniently leaves out the experiences of the Indigenous peoples who had already visited many of the landmarks Powell’s crew “discovered” and fought to keep their lands from the white men who claimed them, a fact that Men On Boats continuously notes. Throughout the script, Jaclyn Backhaus hints to the true nature of Powell’s expedition and what it meant for those who had lived along the river centuries before these men set foot in the canyon. When asked why this story, director, Dr. Vicky Lantz says, “revisiting, revising, and revamping history makes for energizing art and engaging conversation. This relevant and rad show is an unrealistic, but very real, adventure to take.”
Sam Houston State University is built on Native land, specifically that of the Tonkawa Nation. As settlers, we recognize their historic connection to this place. We recognize and deeply appreciate the contributions and historic importance Indigenous peoples have made, both in shaping and strengthening this community in particular, and the country as a whole.
“Here the gorge widens into a spacious, sky-roofed chamber. In the farther end is a beautiful grove of cottonwoods, and between us and the cotton-woods the little stream widens out into three clear lakelets with bottoms of smooth rock. Beyond the cottonwoods the brook tumbles in a series of white, shining cascades from heights that seem immeasurable. Turning around, we can look through the cleft through which we came and see the river with towering walls beyond. What a chamber for a resting-place is this! hewn from the solid rock, the heavens for a ceiling, cascade fountains within, a grove in the conservatory, clear lakelets for a refreshing bath, and an outlook through the doorway on a raging river, with cliffs and mountains beyond.”
---A description of the Grand Canyon from John Wesley Powell’s Journal, 1869
It’s vivid journal entries like this that inspired the creation of the thrilling world of Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus. As ten men driven by adventure and curiosity journey down the Colorado river and through the Grand Canyon, what beauty will they discover as they traverse canyons, cliffs, and coves? What perils await them as they take on the fierce rapids of the river?
“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things.”
---John Wesley Powell, 1869
Jaclyn Backhaus on Men on Boats
Men on Boats Pre-show Converstations.
Meet the Cast & Creatives
Makayla is a junior theatre major from Spring, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her as one of the Storytellers in Once on This Island, and as Lilith Morningstar/Lilly in She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms. At other Institutions, she has appeared as Vanessa in In the Heights and as Lady Larkin in Once Upon a Mattress. Upon graduation, Mickey plans to pursue a career in acting.
Sarah is a junior theatre major from Spring, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her as a member of the ensemble in Town Hall. At other institutions, she has appeared as Miss Prism in The Importance of being Earnest, and as Alma Ward in Mother Hicks. Upon graduation, Sarah plans to pursue a career in acting.
Johanna is a junior theatre major from Huntsville, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her as Tilly in She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms, Lily in Dust, and the assistant stage manager for Constellations. Upon graduation, Johanna plans to pursue a career in acting and directing
Mya is a junior musical theatre major from Missouri City, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her as Erzulie in Once on This Island, Vicky in Bright Half Life and as a member of the ensemble in Heathers: The Musical. Upon graduation, Mya plans to pursue a career in musical theatre.
Sage is a junior theatre major from San Antonio, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember them as a member of the ensemble in Town Hall, one of the Servants in Pride & Prejudice and as the Assistant Stage Manager for Let Me Down Easy. At other institutions, they have appeared as Dr. Slawkenburgius in The Mariner, Dewy Maples in The Diviners, and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Upon graduation, Sage plans to pursue a career in directing.
Kinley is a senior theatre major from Edna, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember them as Roland in Constellations and as a member of the ensemble in Sonnets for an Old Century. At other institutions they have appeared as and Jo in Little Woman and as an ensemble member in Grease and Mamma Mia. Upon graduation, Kinley plans to pursue a career in acting and directing.
Paige is a sophomore theatre major from Sugar Land, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her as Daughter of York/Messenger/Citizen in Richard III. At other institutions, she has appeared as Donna in Mamma Mia! and Gertrude McFuzz in Seussical The Musical. Upon graduation, Paige plans to pursue a career in acting.
Caitlin is a senior theatre major from Pasadena, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her as a member of the ensemble in Sonnets for an Old Century. At other institutions, she has appeared as Abigail Williams in The Crucible, Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as Cinderella in Cinderella. Upon graduation, Caitlin plans to pursue a career in acting.
Adrianna is a senior theatre major from Spring, Texas. This is her debut to the SHSU stage! At other institutions, she has appeared as Marge in Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, Nancy in Angel Street, and as Elsa Von Grossenknueten in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. Upon graduation, Adrianna plans to pursue a career in acting and directing.
Drew is a junior theatre major from Houston, Texas. This is their debut to the SHSU stage. At other institutions, they have directed Things I Know To Be True, and was the stage manager for Blood Wedding & The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Upon graduation, Drew plans to pursue a career in directing.
Jackera is a senior musical theatre major from Rosenberg, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her as Ti Moune in Once On This Island, an ensemble member in Assassins, Heathers: The Musical and Violet. At other institutions, she has appeared as Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street. Upon graduation, Jackera plans to pursue a career in acting.
Zara is a sophomore theatre major from Katy, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her as Betty #3 in a stage reading of Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties. At other institutions, she has appeared as Young Sala in Letters to Sala, Lilly Belle in The Curious Savage and Louis Heindbedder in The Fox on the Fairway. Upon graduation, Zara plans to pursue a career in acting.
Tesla is a junior theatre education major from Houston, Texas. This is her debut to the SHSU stage! At other institutions, she has appeared as Callie in Stop Kiss and as Kate in Sylvia. Upon graduation, Tesla plans to pursue a career in education.
Gabi is a senior theatre major from Kingwood, Texas. Her SHSU credits include stage manager for Constellations, costume crew for Assassins, Assistant Stage Manager for Dying City and Heathers. At other institutions, she has appeared as Mack/Ensemble in Peter and the Starcatcher and as an understudy for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Upon graduation, Gabi plans to pursue a career in acting, directing and stage management.
Carey is a senior theatre major from Houston, Texas. At other institutions, she has directed shows such as The Drowsy Chaperone and All My Sons. Carey plans to pursue a career in intimacy direction, directing and dramaturgy.
Assistant Stage Manager
Assistant Stage Manager
Gypsy is a senior theatre major from Odessa, Texas. This is her debut to the SHSU stage. At other institutions she has appeared as Honey Raye in Dearly Beloved, the Little Stone in Eurydice, and as Mulan in Game of Tiaras. Upon graduation, Gypsy plans to pursue a career in acting, directing, education and costume design.
Assistant Stage Manager
Mai is a senior theatre major from Houston, Texas. Their SHSU credits include run crew for She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms, Once on this Island, and Violet.
Ashley is a senior theatre major from Spring, Texas. SHSU audiences may remember her work as the assistant costume designer for Once on this Island. Upon graduation, Ashley plans to pursue a career in scenic art and properties design.
Erik is a senior theatre major from Tomball, Texas. This is his first design project at SHSU. Upon graduation, Erik plans to pursue a career in lighting design.