by Director Sarah Shippobotham
When asked to direct this show I initially didn’t see what all the fuss was about. So what that ten men were being played by ten women? We’ve turned male roles into female ones many times before—we did a female-forward Julius Caesar last semester—because we have always had such strong women in our program, often outnumbering the men, and we have tried hard to give them the opportunities they deserve. I have always been aware of the gender disparity in theatre and I have always decried it; and yet I still didn’t think the gender make up of this play was anything noteworthy. How wrong I was!
Being in a rehearsal room with fourteen young minds, including ten actors, three stage managers and one assistant director/movement director—of whom only two are male identifying—has actually been an eye-opening experience for me. I have learned so much about myself and what it is to be true to my own strength as a woman; about how privileged I was to have a mostly single-sex education; about how fearless many of these young women in the show are in their exploration of their roles in this world; about how we can listen to a lone male voice without it coming off as mansplaining (even though I was worried it may), and about how much work there still is to be done to give women the space they deserve as a matter of course without needing to talk about it because it is still an issue.
Jacklyn Backhaus said that she wrote this play because she wanted to write an adventure play. While writing it she realized she couldn’t be in it, as it was an all-male adventure. To change that, she wrote it for women to play the roles of John Wesley Powell and his crew. She has been asked why she didn’t write a story about women and did she discover women’s stories as she wrote it. She wanted to tell the Powell story. And she did encounter females’ stories along the way, but they had to be looked for as most of our historical documentation puts men’s—and mostly white men’s—stories on show, hiding or overlooking those of the “others” who helped to shape the world.
I love seeing the women of our theatre department taking up male-sized spaces, having fun with each other as they embark on Powell’s epic journey. And I hope you too will value the experience of seeing so many women on stage together at one time.
MEN ON BOATS
MARCH 1-10 in Studio 115
Tickets: tickets.utah.edu/events/men-on-boats/ 801-581-7100