Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-04-18
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



SCOTTISH PLAY SCOTT Exploring masculinity
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

As the new artistic director of American Theater Company, trans artist Will Davis opted to run with and emphasize the organization's revised 2002 mission statement. It begins with the question: "What does it mean to be an American?"

But in regards to Davis' first official production for ATC, that mission statement question could be altered to "What does it mean to be a man?" That's because playwright Jaclyn Backhaus has specifically demanded that all the male characters in her 2016 historical drama Men on Boats are to largely be played by female-identified or gender-nonconforming performers.

"The term we've been using is 'gender-fluid' rather than 'gender-blind,'" said Davis about the casting of Men on Boats, now receiving its Chicago premiere. Davis previously directed Men on Boats in its previous off-Broadway incarnations for Playwrights Horizons and Clubbed Thumb in New York.

Men on Boats is inspired by the 1869 U.S. expedition of 10 men led by John Wesley Powell to chart the course of the Colorado River, which leads them through the Grand Canyon. It's an expedition that usually gets minimal mention in most American history classes.

But Backhaus was well-versed on the expedition, thanks in part to having a scientist dad who was fascinated by explorers. There's also the geographical detail of Backhaus growing up in 'The Grand Canyon' state of Arizona, where Powell's expedition is heavily emphasized in schools.

"When I was looking to write a play a couple of years ago, something historically based, I remembered Powell and how it was a very harrowing adventure," Backhaus said. "We had a copy of John Wesley Powell's journal and I remember it having all these beautiful lithograph prints of people in danger."

As Backhaus was writing her play, she became wistful at the fact that women and people of color would normally never get the chance to play these hyper-masculine white explorers. Yet in the play workshop process, Davis and Backhaus realized that they needn't be so rigid with the casting.

"We just started talking about how rarely it is you see non-male-identified people onstage who are not there because of their relationship to men," Davis said. "They're not just the wife or the girlfriend or the nurse or the seductress or whatever it may be."

"Without deciding that this was the theme we were running with, we were really more asking the question of 'What does this mean to populate this Manifest Destiny play with different kinds of people," Backhaus said. "It really started to crack open a lot of the scenes as a sort of undercurrent running beneath the play. Just watching them work was immediately informative about how exactly the play lives on the stage and what moments can be drummed up for comedy and satire's sake, and what moments ring as true if they were played by the kind of people who went on the expedition."

"One of the most joyful and also exiting ways to get after that was to talk about these questions of legacy and history and the performance of an early American masculinity as 'performance,'" Davis said. "Let's give this cast of 10 people the space to play with those personas of bombastic, swashbuckling, land-grabbing kind of behavior that in many ways is the bedrock of who we are as Americans."

Davis is quick to point out that Men on Boats in Chicago is not a replica of its off-Broadway incarnation. Davis cast locally and chose an entirely new Chicago-based design team that was tasked with theatrically suggesting the Colorado River onstage.

"One thing I always feel is important to say is that it's not a play about women playing men," Davis said. "And I don't have a cast that is completely comprised of female actors."

In terms of casting future ATC productions, Davis intends to draw upon this experience of directing Men on Boats by not pigeonholing potential performers into rigidly defined roles. Davis wants actors to make efforts to self-select roles for themselves in auditions so he and his collaborators can be surprised or inspired by their choices.

"[Men on Boats] is a play where a huge group are fighting about maps and whiskey and rowing over rapids and singing together," Davis said. "There's some mutiny and it's pretty incredible to see a group of folks like that being able to perform a work that is actually not about their gender at all, but about inhabiting these huge explorer personalities."

Men on Boats runs from Friday, Jan. 6, through Sunday, Feb. 12, at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron St. Previews run through Sunday, Jan. 8, with an official press opening 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9. The regular run is 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $20-$38. Call 773-409-4125 or visit for more information.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

Jeff Award-nominated musical theatre performers on stage May 21 2018-04-23 - Chicago, IL - Pride Films and Plays will again host its annual Nominee Night concert showcasing musical theater performers and productions nominated in ...

Gay News

Nominees Announced For the 45th Annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards 2018-04-23 - Monday, April 23, 2018, Chicago, IL — The Jeff Awards announced today, via a special video at:, a total of 115 nominations ...

Gay News

Strawdog Theatre announces 31st Season, "Bravery" 2018-04-22 - CHICAGO - Strawdog Theatre Company and Artistic Directors Michael Dailey, Heath Hays and Anderson Lawfer are proud to announce the company's 31st Season, ...

Gay News

"Striking Out: A Gay Baseball Musical" through June 16 2018-04-22 - CHICAGO - April 20th, 2018 Striking Out: A Gay Baseball Musical is two act musical about the first straight baseball player in a ...

Gay News

Late Nite Catechism celebrates 25 years in Chicago 2018-04-20 - A Chicago original and international hit, Late Nite Catechism turns 25 in the city where it all started. A special anniversary ...

Gay News

Season of Concern hosts 'Cabaret for Care' 2018-04-18 - Season of Concern's 2018 annual benefit titled Cabaret for Care came to the Goodman Theatre on April 9. The evening had donors enjoying ...

Gay News

DANCE PROFILE Getting to know Lucky Plush dancer Aaron-Raheim White 2018-04-18 - How does one go from being a quiet young boy with an unstable home to being a successful Reiki master-teacher and MFA in ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Our Great Tchaikovsky 2018-04-18 - Playwright/Performer: Hershey Felder; Music: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky At: Steppenwolf Theatre Upstairs, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets: 312-335-1650 or; $55. Runs through: May ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW 33 to Nothing 2018-04-18 - Playwright/Composer: Grant James Varjas At: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St. Tickets: 312-943-8722;; $30-$35. Runs through: May 27 ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Ghosts of War 2018-04-18 - Playwright: adapted by William Massolia, from the novel by Ryan Smithson. At: Griffin Theatre Company at The Den, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. ...


Copyright © 2018 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.