Theatre department explores virtual realm with ‘Men On Boats’

The Theatre and New Dance Department returned with its latest virtual production, “Men On Boats” on Oct. 30. Students can now register for a free ticket to attend the online performance that will run through Nov. 4.

The plot of the play follows John Wesley Powell’s 1869 charting expedition through the Colorado River and Grand Canyon, featuring 10 men who set out on a dangerous three-month-long journey in efforts to reach the other side. While the characters portrayed were all white men, playwright Jacklyn Backhaus intentionally called for an all-female cast to promote diversity.

Director Nancy Keystone said she dedicated lots of time and effort to bring her vision to life, especially with the production being the first play she has directed at Cal Poly Pomona.

“This has been an especially challenging process for everyone since we are all working in separate locations,” Keystone said. “The whole project has been a challenge in terms of trying to translate a live, physical process into the virtual realm.”

Actresses were asked for film their scenes using the equipment sent by the department. (Courtesy of Sofia Levi)

Due to the unusual nature of the production process, the actresses were required to adopt multiple roles as they filmed their scenes on their own, taking into consideration the elements they usually do not need to consider, such as lighting, camera angles and props.

Cast member Daisy Posadas, a fourth-year liberal studies and theatre student, explained the many adjustments the cast made, including auditions held via Zoom.

“Being home, I had to find a quiet space where I could set up my device without disturbing anyone. Other than that, preparing was pretty much the same,” Posadas said. “I read the script, familiarized myself with the sides I was given and ran lines with a friend so that I could do my best in the audition room.”

After Posadas was selected to play the role of Powell’s older brother, Shady, she was excited to play a man for the production.

“It’s given me the opportunity to challenge myself and explore different emotions,” she added.

Zoom rehearsals consisted of the actresses being taught how to use the equipment provided to film their scenes, and it also gave time for the cast to get familiar their characters to better portray the real-life explorers.

Despite the many changes, cast member Sofia Levi, a third-year acting student, expressed her appreciation behind the powerful message of the play, stating that it “actively invites women and women of color into the conversation of the finding of the western part of the United States.”

Cast members like third-year theatre student Jena Franco were also drawn to the play due to its promotion of diverse women of color and the LGBTQ community.

According to Levi, the actresses were also able to closely examine a part of the country’s history that is not commonly discussed. The dialogue shared in the play reminds the cast and the audience that the United States was “never discovered but stolen from the Ute Tribe,” she added.

While the “Men on Boats” production took a new approach to live performances, the all-female cast worked together to overcome their adversities. To watch the play, register at https://www.cpp.edu/class/theatre-new-dance/2020-2021/menonboats.shtml.

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