• Adult Language

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

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“...you will surely want to spend time with the hearty title characters of Men on Boats.” – NY Times

The Story

White water boating down the Grand Canyon sounds like a sensational summer trip, not a theatrical outing, but Jaclyn Backhaus successfully made this story a stage production. John Wesley Powell’s extensive journal of their voyage provides the grist for Backhaus’s rollicking take on ten individualists, four boats and the molding of a myth.

“...you’re unlikely to find more thrills, chills and death-defying spills.” – LA Times

The Experience

Men on Boats was written for a cast of women, cisgender, and transgender actors, adding a modern twist on a not well known, but true American story. We watch the woman explorers crash down the river, battling not just the elements, but themselves as well. And since women will be women turf wars will erupt, food will be coveted, and whiskey will be consumed. Damaged boats and lost supplies are life and death matters.

This play is an interpretation of real events presented in a historically incorrect and humorous style. It is a gender-defying play about a time when almost all explorers were men. The historically based comedy written in 2015 also abandons the old language that was used by the early explorers. Her script uses words that are easily recognized and regularly used by people born in this century. The combination of putting women in the roles of Western expansion explorers along with some salty language creates a fun yet insightful version of the exploration of the Grand Canyon.

By using women as the male explorers, Jaclyn Backhaus modernizes a historic saga by highlighting the expanding roles women have in today’s society. Her use of contemporary language added to the audience’s perception of the trials and triumphs of the early explorers in an intelligent and entertaining way. 

In an interview, Backhaus said, “What HAMILTON does so well is that it has erased the preciousness of who’s allowed to tell stories, and that acts as a gateway to ask not only, ‘who’s allowed to tell the stories,’ but also ‘whose story are we telling?’ I think that's what is really exciting about HAMILTON – and what I hope my piece is doing too – is that all of the sudden, you realize there is a gaping hole among our collective consciousness as far as our own history goes. It presents the question, “what men and women and people do we want as part of our collective history?” And, I hope that kind of question will spur a deeper look into people who have largely been forgotten.”

The Creator

"Jaclyn Backhaus is a playwright, cofounder of Fresh Ground Pepper, and new member of The Kilroys. Her plays include Men On Boats (New York Times Critics’ Pick, Clubbed Thumb, Playwrights Horizons, published by Dramatists Play Service), India Pale Ale (Manhattan Theatre Club, recipient of the 2018 Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play), You Across From Me (co-written with three other writers for the Humana Festival), Folk Wandering (book writer and co-lyricist with 11 composers, Pipeline Theatre Company), and You On the Moors Now (Theater Reconstruction Ensemble), among others. She was the 2016 Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence at Clubbed Thumb and she is currently in residence at Lincoln Center. Backhaus holds a BFA in Drama from NYU Tisch, where she now teaches. She hails from Phoenix, Arizona, and currently resides in Ridgewood, Queens with her husband, director Andrew Scoville and their son Ernie.” Read More

From the Director...

Imagination. The daily bread of childhood. When we are young, we put ourselves at the center of tales that excite us. We become the explorer, the adventurer, the revolutionary. Whether we are in our backyard, our bedroom or our living room, a beach towel becomes a cape, a box becomes a boat, and a tent of blankets becomes a cave. The world is our canvas. We can become anyone we wish. We may not create all the details of the landscape, and the lens with which we view our heroics may possess a decidedly contemporary tint, but we are nonetheless fully and completely present in an epic story. Sadly, as we grow toward adulthood, we begin to place constraints on our visions of who we are and who we can become. Historically, these boundaries are frequently restricted by our gender. Jaclyn Backhaus’s innovative and invigorating Men On Boats blasts such limitations out of the water. Sans Men and sans Boats, we experience the Powell expedition on the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. And as we take our theatrical journey filled with danger, humor and pathos, we also explore the uncharted waters of a renewed freedom and the undiscovered horizons of a newfound equality. Our artists have taken immense delight in creating the ingenious world of Men On Boats for you, and we hope your voyage with us is stimulating and exhilarating.

– Denise Burson Freestone

Performance Schedule and Ticket Options


  • Fab Friday
  • Matinee Performance
  • Pay What You Can
  • Performance
  • Student/Educator Night
Please choose a date below for tickets.

Cast and Creatives