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 2017-04-19
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

Steppenwolf's Lavey dies at 60 2017-04-25 - Martha Lavey—the artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre from 1995 to 2014—has died in hospice care at Illinois Masonic Hospital. She was 60. ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Linda Vista 2017-04-19 - Playwright: Tracy Letts. At: Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets: $20-$94. Runs through: May 21 It's been said of the ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW The Mystery of Love & Sex 2017-04-19 - Playwright: Bathsheba Doran. At: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. Tickets: 847-242-6000;; $35-$80. Runs through: July 2 Despite its title and ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW King of the Yees 2017-04-19 - Playwright: Lauren Yee. At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: $10-$40. Runs through: April 30 Lauren Yee's play is a chronicle ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday 2017-04-19 - Playwright: Sarah Ruhl. At: Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-975-8150 or; $35. Runs through: May 20 ...

Gay News

Theater spotlight on Marry Me a Little, Critics' Picks 2017-04-19 - Theater spotlight Die-hard fans of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim won't want to miss Porchlight Music Theatre's rare revival of Marry Me a Little. ...

Gay News

NUNN ON ONE: THEATER Chad Beguelin helps give 'Aladdin' its magic 2017-04-19 - The musical version of Disney's Aladdin takes the popular cartoon and gives it even more of a shine. The story follows a young ...

Gay News

'Lady X' at Mary's Attic in April-June 2017-04-19 - Hell in a Handbag Productions will open its 15th season with the world premiere of Lady X—A Musical on April 21-June 10 at ...

Gay News

Otis Mack: Heavy Diva's show goes on 2017-04-19 - Otis Mack, also known as "Chicago's Heavy Diva," does not take entertainment lightly. CEO and founder of HeavyDiva Productions and creator of The ...

Gay News

Ten Dollar House play about preservation, gay partners at Glessner 2017-04-14 - Glessner House Museum will host two performances of the celebrated play Ten Dollar House Saturday, May 13 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May ...


Copyright © 2017 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.