University Theatre presents ‘Men on Boats,’ a history lesson through a gender-inclusive gaze


‘Men on Boats’ puts a diverse perspective on male historical figures. (Sarah Delgado/The Collegian)

By Sarah Delgado, Lifestyle Editor

Fresno State’s University Theatre presents “Men On Boats,” a racially diverse and gender-inclusive play directed by Gina Sandí-Díaz.

The first show is on Friday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m at the Dennis and Cheryl Woods Theatre in the Speech Arts Building. It will run from March 28-April 1. On Saturday, March 25, “Show Buddies,” a cast talk, will take place after the play for audience members to ask the crew and actors questions. A matinee showing will take place at 2 p.m. on March 26.

The play, written by Jaclyn Backhaus in 2017, is based on John Wesley Powell’s travel logs of a 1869 expedition through the Colorado River. Backhaus, however, writes the play through a “female and gender-fluid gaze” and is intended to be a satire, criticizing historical events.

Sandí-Díaz said the original play is a historic piece, but with a new emphasis on women and gender-fluid audiences, it becomes more relatable with social issues.

“What would this look like with racial minorities? So she specifically writes this play, taking a few liberties, and making the man behave in ways that only women would behave,” Sandí-Díaz said. “At the very top of the script [it says] this play must be performed by women, or by actors that identified as non-binary or as [noncisgender] white men.”

Sandí-Díaz said that actors worked on bringing the play to life for six weeks. The most challenging part of the play was figuring out how to block scenes with boat props.

“It was challenging for us to play inside the boats and to get the rhythm of it. It was also incredibly fun. We had a great time,” Sandí-Díaz said.

The play is intended for everyone, with the exception of some language.

“You don’t have to be familiar with the events in the story to recognize the little bit of twisting that the playwright is bringing into the story, so that we can question a little bit the way in which we decide to tell history or to write history, and who we decide to put at the front of history,” Sandí-Díaz said.

Cecilia Fisher, a theater design tech student, worked with Sandí-Díaz to bring a colorful set together.

She decorated the edges of the stage with large wooden-based structures made to look like rustic canyons. With the addition of cardboard and fabric, the structure resembles a mini-version of the Grand Canyon.

The structures needed to be stable enough to hold the actors. Fisher said that the base is wood with cardboard added o provide support. (Sarah Delgado/The Collegian)

“I like the message of it having a mostly women cast and pointing out that a lot of history is overwritten,” Fisher said about the play.

Fisher worked with four other student designers to bring the set to life.

“I wanted it to be colorful because the whole show is upbeat. It’s sort of a comedy so I wanted to fit into that,” Fisher said.

Sandí-Díaz hopes audiences can appreciate looking at history in an alternative way.

“I think that there’s a lot of value in starting to perceive stories from different perspectives, not just from the male perspective, which is the one that we’re accustomed to,” she said.

Tickets are available for purchase on the theatre and dance website. Tickets start at $17 for general admission; $15 for Fresno State faculty, staff, alumni and military; and $10 for students.

Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Speech Arts ticket booth.