“Men on Boats” Docks on the BW Theatre Stage

The Baldwin Wallace Theatre and Dance department will be streaming an online production of the play “Men on Boats” from March 31 to April 4. The production is being directed by Anjanette Hall, assistant professor of theatre.

Hall originally intended to direct “The Wolves” this season, a show about an all-female soccer team that contains a high level of physicality and movement for actors. “When we were denied the rights, I continued looking for something physical and female-driven,” Hall said. A friend of hers recommended “Men on Boats” which is a very physically driven show starring actors of marginalized backgrounds or gender. “I submitted it very quickly and everyone on the selection committee agreed that it was a great play,” Hall said.

“Men on Boats” is based on the true events that occurred on The Powell Expedition in 1869. The expedition was compiled of a group of white cisgender men led by John Wesley Powell who were commissioned to explore the lands and rivers that are now known as The Grand Canyon. The playwright mandates that the roles in the production are played by female-identifying, racially diverse, transgender, nonbinary or gender-fluid people.

The play not only teaches a history lesson, but it shares a message from the perspective of marginalized backgrounds and genders. Hall said, “The play is really about claiming land, claiming story — ownership of land and story. Our American history has always been told through the eye of the cisgender white privileged male. To see the retelling of history told through a completely different lens — it illuminates all these different events.”

The cast and crew of “Men on Boats” have been rehearsing in person for this production. Hall said that her biggest challenge has been making sure to keep all the actors as far apart as she can with the blocking. She said, “The masks are the most difficult part for everybody. The reality is that acting is about behavior. Luckily, so much is told through the eyes.”

Brennan Murphy, chair of the Theatre and Dance department, agreed that masks are difficult in theatre. He said, “When you have a mask on covering all expressive parts of your face, you have to be more expressive in your movements.”

He compared the situation to students taking a mask class, which focuses on an actor using his body movements to tell a story rather than the presentation of a person’s self that they give during a performance.

He said that students have had to exercise different muscles to move the production forward, including designers learning how to create face masks for costumes for the first time. Hall said that they created face masks that look like bandanas so it looks like the actors are simply wearing bandanas on their faces.

“There’s been such a collaboration between everyone — actors, designers, directors, and especially the technical staff. From every aspect we have had to rethink what we’ve been doing,” Murphy said.

“Men on Boats” will be available for streaming Wednesday, March 31 through Saturday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 4 at 2 p.m. Ticket purchasing and further information regarding the show can be found at: https://www.bw.edu/events/2021/03-31-theatre-men-on-boats.