Reimagining Ourselves: A.C.T.’s Director of Dramaturgy and New Works Talks Men on Boats

By Joy Meads 

Dramaturg Joy Meads and Director Tamilla Woodard laugh together at the first rehearsal for Men on Boats.

On the first day of rehearsal for Men on Boats, sound designer Kate Marvin played a sample of the music she was creating for the show. She had vividly captured the iconic sound of western adventure familiar from a thousand movies and television shows. The stirring rhythms and soaring strains called up memories I didn’t know I still held inside me: tales of audacity, strength, courage, and the heroic acts of rugged men. These stories helped shape my earliest ideas of leadership, tenacity, and the indomitable American spirit. I suspect many of you can relate.

The heroes of these stories were, of course, inevitably male and relentlessly white, and I later came to understand the narrow and contorted view of reality they offered. With a few, notable exceptions, people of color were erased, flattened, or vilified, and rigid, binary gender roles were scrupulously maintained. On the first page of the script for Men on Boats, playwright Jaclyn Backhaus challenges us to reimagine these stories: “The characters in Men on Boats were historically cisgender [a person whose gender identity is the same as the gender assigned at birth] white males. The cast should be made up entirely of people who are not.”

Our society is learning to acknowledge that gender has always existed along a spectrum, that a person’s gender identity may not align with the gender they were assigned at birth, and that traits which were traditionally coded as male or female are present in people of every gender. But, as anyone who has bought a present for a baby shower can address, traditional binary gender roles are still enforced in countless ways. And a vast and growing body of research points to the fact that these stereotypes impair our ability to accurately perceive the people around us.

In 2016, I watched in horrified amazement as pundits on news programs actually debated whether a former secretary of state known for her indefatigable travel schedule had the stamina to be president. I saw her ambition discussed with grave concern, as though it were a character flaw, instead of a necessary quality of everyone who has ever run for the highest office in the land. Multiple studies attest to the reality that women are perceived as either likable or competent, but rarely both.

On the first day of rehearsal, director Tamilla Woodard told the company, “We are in a frontier. We are in a moment when we can reimagine ourselves.” By creating an adventure story for women, trans, and non-white actors, Backhaus blasts through stereotypes and expands our understanding of the full potential in each of us.

Join us for Men on Boats, running through December 16 at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. Get your tickets today!

Popular posts from this blog

“To Be or Not to Be”: The Iconic Speech’s Origins, Interpretations, and Impact

The American Sound: The Evolution of Jazz

Purely Pinteresque: The Elements of Pinter's Language