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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.

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

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

Produced by The NOLA Project, New Orleans, LA

March, 2018

Men on Boats 

Written by Jaclyn Backhaus

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