MEN ON BOATS: An Action-Packed, Historical Adventure Through The Grand Canyon From The Comfort of a Seat in The Theatre

No Men, No Boats, No Way You Want to Miss This Show!

By Molly Wells

BOONE, NC - The Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance proudly presents "Men on Boats," a thrilling and widely acclaimed work by Jaclyn Backhaus. The cast is comprised of thirteen individuals, spanning across all undergraduate class levels. The production will take place in the Valborg Theatre on campus at 7 p.m. from Feb. 28 to March 2 with a 2 p.m. matinee on March 3, 2024. Student admission is $10, faculty/staff is $15, and adult admission is $17. Tickets are available online through the department website, as well as by phone and in person through the Schaefer Center for the Arts box office.

Jaclyn BackhausJaclyn Backhaus

"Men on Boats" follows the journey of ten explorers aboard four boats, traversing the Grand Canyon. Backhaus' play is based on the 1869 expedition led by John Wesley Powell down the Colorado River. The story shows the challenges of navigating "uncharted" terrain as well as interpersonal relationships amongst the crew. At the same time, the unique casting requirements of this play mean the production is also a commentary on gender roles and historical perspective. "Men on Boats" is produced by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service.

Cast member Delta McCalister, who plays the role of Seneca Howland in the play, reflected on their rehearsal experience by saying, "Having the opportunity to be a part of this show means everything to me. I have never been in a heavily movement-based show before, so the opportunity to work alongside production members, such as dance faculty member Chris Yon, who has expertise in the area is a fulfilling learning experience. I am excited to share this show with an audience because of the impact it is sure to have on them."

Men On Boats Delta McCalisterDelta McCalister, Kendall Rhue Wilson, and Kaitlyn Kaufman rehearse the wreck of the No Name

Director Dr. Gina L. Grandi says that "Men on Boats" is not a re-enactment of this story. "Instead, we are telling this story... one of adventure, exploration, and brotherhood, but it's also an investigation into mythologies around power, gender, and exceptionalism. It is the story of Powell and the nine men who traveled with him, seeking adventure, forging bonds, and facing down the elements, as well as the story of our examination of that history through modern sensibilities."  The script includes a casting note from playwright Jacklyn Backhaus, which reads as follows: "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 castAthena Ackerman, Kiersten Caliguire, and Skyler Brianna  rehearse the waterfall scene

In response to this fact, Grandi said, "Our actors are not playing characters dressed as men – they are playing men. Through the rehearsal process, not only has the cast studied the history of the expedition and the writings and documentation around the men they play but studied men and how masculinity manifests in this story, in that time, and in our lives today from the perspective of those who are both outside that identity and significantly impacted by it."

Appalachian theatre education major Willow Brookshire is stage manager for the production. She stated, "People should come see "Men on Boats" to celebrate the experiences of different types of people, specifically those whose perspectives are not typically represented in history. The cast has been exploring masculinity and the effect that it has on all people, regardless of gender identity. The negative effects of masculinity are not talked about enough in society, but it is important that conversation is had, and this show is a good way to start the discussion."

The show offers many opportunities for students to learn by giving them a nontraditional acting task. It is not often that a show consisting of all male characters are intentionally cast to be played by people who do not identify as men. The actors have dug into their roles, worked on changing their physicality, and how they interact with others on stage. The department also provides students the opportunity to gain experience working as a production team member.

Men On Boats image 3Skyler Brianna as Powell and Lauren Huneycutt as Bradley in a dramatic rescue scene

The all-student cast of "Men on Boats" includes, in alphabetical order, Athena Ackerman, Mackenzie Boone, Skyler Brianna, Kiersten B. Caliguire, Kalea Fraser, Lauren Huneycutt, Kaitlyn Kaufman, Delta McCalister, Darby Shaw, Kendall Rhue Wilson, Brooklynn Waller, Molly Wells, and Jordan Williams.

In addition, design and technical elements provided by theatre and dance faculty members include scenic design by Michael Helms, choreography by Chris Yon, and dramaturgy by Dr. Derek Davidson. T&D staff members Matt Tyson and Kristin Grieneisen are technical director and costume shop supervisor, respectively. Lighting design done by guest artist Mike Riggs. Appalachian student Alex Contianos is assistant director, with classmate Willow Brookshire serving as stage manager, and Janis Nordeen as the costume, makeup, and hair designer.

For directions to the Valborg Theatre and information about campus parking during "Men On Boats," click here


About the Department of Theatre and Dance
One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Department of Theatre and Dance's mission is to facilitate transformative experiences for students and the public, which cultivate compassionate, creative, and collaborative communities through theatre and dance. The department also offers coursework for integrated learning through the arts to the general university student population. Its dynamic co-curricular production program provides exemplary theatre and dance experiences to departmental students, the university community, and the region.

About the College of Fine and Applied Arts
Appalachian State University's College of Fine and Applied Arts is a dynamic and innovative group of seven academic departments, bringing together a variety of perspectives, experiences, and real-world education to provide unique opportunities for student success. The college has more than 3,500 undergraduate and graduate majors. Its departments are Applied Design, Art, Communication, Military Science and Leadership, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, and Theatre and Dance. Learn more here

About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio, and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.


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Published: Feb 13, 2024 2:08pm