Men on Boats
A play about cisgender white men on boats, played by a racially diverse and entirely "female-identifying, trans-identifying, and/or non-gender-conforming" cast. The men in question are John Wesley Powell and his crew. The boats are exploring the Green and Colorado Rivers to the Grand Canyon in 1869.
It's a lively, physical play that celebrates adventure and new frontiers. Nature is very much a character in every scene, whether the men are battling whitewater rapids, enjoying dawn vistas, or frying fish on the campfire. This made sound a true character in the play. My design gave the production a constant stream of natural ambience, ranging from crickets and campfires to birds, breezes, and distant brooks. I created these soundscapes from multiple layers, carefully spacing out waves and chirps. No two soundscapes were the same; I paid close attention to the time of day and location of each scene.
Several scenes depict the boats traversing rapids, waterfalls, whirlpools, and rocky passages. The peril in the play is real and director Shannon Sindelar tightly choreographed these moments. I scored their actions and dialogue with sound cues--rushes of water, oar strokes, splashes, music, and more expressionistic touches when danger was high.
This is a fast-moving play with many short scenes that often flowed into one another or required the actors to reconfigure the large rolling set pieces, making transition music crucial to my design.
All of the music in the play was by Louis Moreau Gottschalk. He was a Union supporter from New Orleans (where the play was produced), born of a Jewish Londoner and a French Creole. An explorer and pioneer in his own right, he's called the first great American composer, and his work was influenced by his extensive world travels. Gottschalk died the year of Powell's expedition, and his music was very well-known at the time. A dramaturgical win in every way!
I selected a handful of his piano pieces, sliced them up, stitched them together, and created underscoring and transitional elements to fit the action and mood on stage.
My work won the Big Easy Entertainment Award for Best Sound Design.
Men on Boats
Written by Jaclyn Backhaus
John Wesley Powell: Claire Gresham
John Colton Sumner: Monica R. Harris
O.G. Howland/Tsauwiat: Leslie Claverie
Hall: Lillian J. Small
Seneca Howland/The Bishop: Allena Natchez Fleming
Bradley: Keyara Milliner
Frank Goodman/Mr. Asa: Kali Russell
Hawkins: Natalie Boyd
Old Shady: Te’Era Coleman
William Dunn: Meredith Owens
Produced by The NOLA Project, New Orleans, LA
Director: Shannon Sindelar
Assistant Director: Erin Sheets
Production Manager: Jenny L. Billot
Stage Manager: Sarah Chatelain
Assistant Stage Manager: Caroline St. Amant
Scenic Designer: Joan Long
Technical Director: Eduardo Ramirez
Costume Designer: Shauna Leone
Lighting Designer: Mandi Wood
Sound Designer: Clare Marie Nemanich
Props Designer: Jamie Bird
Dramaturg: Sarah Durn
Production Photography: Edward Carter Simon & John B. Barrois
Production Videography: Mason Wood
Graphic Art Design: Matt Phelan