Interview with Brandy
What is your experience with whitewater rafting?
I was bitten by the rafting bug when my sister became a guide in college. They needed volunteers to paddle so the new guides could practice navigating through the rapids. I fell quickly in love! Even though I would finish a run near frozen from the snow-melt frigid water, if they were willing to take me down again I was going to be in the boat! A few summers after that I went through guide training myself and ended up working as a raft guide for over 17 summers on the Poudre River with A Wanderlust Adventure (the best)! I also spent a season guiding on the Gauley River in West Virginia and guided a few sections of the Colorado while working with Outward Bound. Non-commercially I have had the pleasure of rowing or paddling down so many fun sections of river in the US and internationally. This has included several of the sections of the Green and Colorado rivers that were navigated and mapped by the Powell Expedition... up to and including the Grand Canyon!
What was the experience like when rafting the Grand Canyon?
Getting a Grand Canyon permit is the equivalent of winning the lottery for a river addict, which allows for a trip like none other! You can pay to run it commercially (if you can afford to) relying on professionals to do the bulk of the work and all of the navigating, which for some would be the preferred option. In my case, a friend and former Grand Canyon guide, got a permit he’d applied for over twenty years prior. I was invited to run a boat down with him, his family, and a few more of his lucky friends. It is incredibly challenging to describe the experience and impact of the 18 day expedition (not including time to get organized and plan and pack gear and meals that will be edible almost 3 weeks later, the journey to the put-in, and all of the aftermath in returning to 'normal life'). That said, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Once we rigged our boats and finally launched, there was nowhere to go except down river. Our life consisted of the drastic and changing scenery as we moved deeper into layers of rock that had been carved out over time, group cooking and living, vast night skies full of stars, sleeping each night with the sound of the river as a constant companion, side hikes, waterfalls, living completely off the grid and... oh, yes, the RIVER! Calm, flat, slow times at the oars which allowed for contemplation or conversation; Punctuated by intense moments of rapids - heart pounding, focused, concentration, hoping that I set myself up for success, that I will make the necessary adjustments and moves to stay in or get to the next best position as the pulses of the currents and the unforeseen obstacles arise, and praying that the river gods will be with me again this time.... the rush of adrenaline balanced with the sigh of relief – giddiness mixed with gratitude!
What is your favorite rafting trip you've ever been on?
Oh my, there have been so many great ones! The Poudre is amazing for a day trip full of white water and multi-day trips in the canyons are hard to beat. And, since it's not just about the river but about who you are sharing the experience with, I'd have to say my favorite was one of the family trips we've taken down the Flaming Gorge with my sisters, brothers-in-law, niece and nephews, my parents, and my husband and 3 kids.
In accordance to the production, what exactly did to discuss with the cast in order to help them properly prepare for the show?
In an ideal world, I would have loved to have taken them all down the river in my boat. And, as it was November when I met them, I did my best to explain, demonstrate, and coach them about the physical experiences of rafting. This included river hydraulics and what creates the rapids and describing while miming what it feels like to fall into the river, get thrashed around by the currents, get caught in a recirculating hole, swim in the river, and get back to shore or into another boat. We practiced the differences between rowing and paddling and used brooms and mops as makeshift oars to replicate pulling, pushing, and turning in the river. The cast were very fun, receptive, and eager to make the scenes as authentic as possible. I was able to watch one of the later rehearsals and was blown away by how hard they worked to create the feel of being in the boats, and occasionally in the water, for the show. What I loved about it is we could still move our bodies in the space and simulate the movement without actually experiencing hypothermia. Obviously, there is nothing like the real deal to understand in a holistic way - mind, body, and spirit – the experience of a rafting expedition, and maybe through the theatre we can inspire a new desire to connect with nature and the river.
What are you most excited about seeing in the finished product of this show?
I love the 'twist' of having a completely non-male cast and some of the subtle (and not so subtle) irony of the Powell expedition. I am excited to be pulled into the experience of the journey as I watch the show, knowing that I was able to play a very small role in helping to create a bit more authenticity in the boating scenes.
It was a pleasure to be able to participate in this production and I am grateful I had the opportunity to contribute. For years I have wanted to get involved in theatre and this was a fun way to dip my toe in the stream and splash around a little. I'm hoping I can be helpful again in the future! Yay for the arts!
Men on Boats
By Jaclyn Backhaus
Directed by Denise Burson Freestone
January 18 – February 15, 2020
“A thrilling, gender-flipped slice of manifest destiny.” -Time Out New York
Ten explorers. Four boats. One Grand Canyon. Men on Boats is the true(ish) history of an 1869 expedition when a one-armed captain and an insane yet loyal crew set out to chart the course of the Colorado River. Inspired by John Wesley Powell’s actual travel logs, Backhaus’s nimble and ingenious script is provocative, laugh-out-loud theatre, performed by a diverse cast of non-male actors who infuse America’s historic myths of male conquest with a sly blast of satire. With the speed and force of whitewater rapids, this off-Broadway sensation creates perilous canyons and death-defying cliffs out of sheer imagination, shaping an innovative and innately theatrical experience.
Playing at Lincoln Center Magnolia Theatre – 417 West Magnolia Street