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Program Note from MEN ON BOATS

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

I recently had the pleasure of producing Jaclyn Backhaus' riotous MEN ON BOATS for Live Arts, directed by Jeremy Duncan Pape. Though the run was cut short due to covid-19, we are immensely proud of this production (and of all the teen apprentices who did such a wonderful job co-designing this show!)

Below I've provided my program note and some amazing shots from the production, including a beautiful set, directed by artist and tech director extraordinaire, Annie Temmick.

"A Note from the Producer

On a recent pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I found myself in the American Wing confronted with Emanuel Leutze’s depiction of George Washington’s 1776 attack on Trenton, “Washington Crossing the Delaware” (1851). Though it technically depicts a major event in American history, Leutze’s painting also represents an American cultural myth of bravery (or bravado) in the face of wrathful nature: a dignified General Washington stands perfectly balanced toward the prow of his boat; two of his soldiers hoist the American Flag upward; other soldiers navigate around dangerous chunks of ice. Yet while taking in the painting’s enormity (a whopping 12 ft. 5 in. x 21 ft. 3 in), there was one thought I could not banish:

There’s a lot of men on that very small boat.

Twelve of them to be exact. If you took Washington out of the painting, you’d just have a bunch of guys struggling to row across a dangerous river. Leuzte’s painting was finished six years after journalist John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny:” a policy of continental colonization that long determined America’s program of exploration, largely at the expense of Native guardians of the land. Looking closely at Leutze’s painting quietly reveals a figure wearing Native moccasins and a shoulder pouch, as well as a Black soldier rowing at the prow of the boat. The faces of both figures are partially obscured, but their presence is unmistakable—they cannot be written out of even this performative myth of American history.

Though performative in its own way, Men on Boats distances us from the image of the victorious conqueror who faces off against both Man and Nature to claim what is his; instead it draws us toward the mundane practicalities of exploration by river and the bonds that develop there. It provides a picture of male intimacy for a culture that still glorifies a rugged, individualistic, stoic masculinity.

It’s been a true pleasure to produce Men on Boats, this season’s Mentor/Apprentice show. Everything you see tonight results from the collaboration of a creative team of designers and their apprentices. Here at the theater, we know—as does Powell and his crew—that nothing great is ever accomplished alone. Thank you for being here.

With Gratitude,

Kelli Shermeyer"

Some credits:

Set: Maya Wood + fabulous apprentices

Lighting: Heather Hutton + fabulous apprentices!

Scenic Charge: Annie Temmick

Costumes by Amy Goffman + fabulous apprentices!

Props: Daryl Bray + fabulous apprentices!

Photo Credit: Martyn Kyle / Pernmoot

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