Belmont University’s Department of Theatre and Dance and Actors Bridge Ensemble will open their production of Jaclyn Backhaus’ “Men on Boats” Friday at 7:30 p.m..
“Men on Boats” is based on the expedition of John Wesley Powell and his exploration of the Grand Canyon. However, the show is not a dry retelling of history. Backhaus uses contemporary language to make the story more accessible to modern audiences.
“One thing I find really intriguing is the combination of history with a contemporary sensibility,” said director Leah Lowe. “The show talks about how we experience history — whether we experience it as this grand narrative or whether we actually think about the individuals that made it.”
Another way “Men on Boats” makes history accessible to the audience is its use of a gender-bent and racially-diverse cast to tell the stories of white men.
“It is to give women the opportunity to go on an adventure that at the time only men were able to do,” said Alex Nichols, who plays mapmaker Andrew Hall.
This sentiment is mirrored by cast mate Reilly O’Connell, who plays hunter and trapper William Dunn.
“The whole focus is that we’re not supposed to be men, we’re supposed to be people,” said O’Connell.
True to the script, the cast is a diverse group of people, with professional actors performing alongside Belmont students. As a collaboration between the Department of Theatre and Dance and Actors Bridge Ensemble, a local theater company, many students, like Lucy Buchanan, have taken the opportunity to learn from the professionals.
“They nurture us. If we have acting questions, they give us their advice,” said Buchanan, who plays soldier George Bradley.
The play requires a great deal of skill as it involves stunts and complicated movement, so it is crucial that the cast respects each other.
“More so than ever, I’m realizing the importance of your ensemble. We have huge, strong bonds as characters and as people,” said Sofia Tosches, who plays printer and hunter O. G. Howland.
“Men on Boats” will open Friday in Belmont’s Black Box Theater space. All shows count for convocation, but only weekend matinees and Thursday night shows are free for students. The show runs through April 22.
Belmont students, faculty and staff can reserve tickets here.