‘Men on Boats’ Coming to MSU Auditorium

Three women in front of a river pretending to row a wooden boat

MSU’s Department of Theatre will perform Jaclyn Backhaus’ Men on Boats November 9-11 and November 13-18 in the Studio 60 Theatre at the MSU Auditorium. 

Directed by Associate Professor Ann Folino White, Men on Boats is a story of Major John Wesley Powell and his crew who set off to chart the Green and Colorado Rivers on the first official government-sponsored expedition of the Grand Canyon.

Set in May 1869, Men on Boats is a comedy that reimagines the exploits of these 10 skilled, yet misfit adventurers, offering a contemporary perspective on the history of male conquest and westward expansion.

Thee women stand in front of a river. Woman on right holds a wooden row, woman in middle looks out of a telescope, woman on the left holds a wooden row.
Cast of ‘Men on Boats’ left to right: Leah Bauer, Beth Hendrickson, Isabella Stenz

Playwright Jaclyn Backhaus was inspired by Powell’s actual journals and threw gender, historical, and theatrical expectations overboard to slyly recast historical heroes for a lively take on gender roles.

MSU’s racially and gender diverse cast will take audiences on a raucous ride down the rapids to remind us that how we represent the past impacts how we will be inspired to make history in the future.

“Through comedy, the play critiques the grand narratives of great
white men “making history” to the erasure of women, non-binary people and
people of color. It troubles the idea of the American West as uncharted
territory as it relates to the white supremacy of Manifest Destiny, as
well as historical (mis)representation of indigenous people to justify the
belief,” Folino White said. “Both the playwright’s casting requirements and the story itself actively engage with the social constructions of gender and history to encourage audiences to question accepted beliefs. And it is funny!”

Three women are in a wooden boat pretending to row
Cast of ‘Men on Boats’

A pre-show discussion will take place prior to the Sunday, November 11, performance at 1:15 p.m., and there will be a post-show discussion following the Tuesday, November 13, performance that will include a talkback panel featuring Briona S. Jones, Ph.D. student in the Department of English and University Fellow; Associate Professor Mindy Morgan in the Department of Anthropology; and affiliated faculty in the Department of American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

Tickets can be purchased through the Wharton Center for Performing Arts website and are $15 for general admission, $13 for seniors and faculty, and $10 for students.