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‘Men On Boats’? Well, Not Exactly

September 27, 2018

FITCHBURG -- Explore the wildness of the Grand Canyon with a twist -- this weekend at the Stratton Players’ performance of “Men On Boats.”

“These are men who lived by the seat of their pants and moment to moment,” said Joshua Weidenhamer, director for the play.

“Men On Boats” has showings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 5, 6 and 7. Performances will be held at The Alumni Center for the Performing Arts at 98 Prospect St. in Fitchburg. Show times will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.

The play is based on John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition of the Grand Canyon. It centers on a one-armed captain and a crew of insane yet loyal volunteers who set out to chart the course of the Colorado River.

The 10 characters are all men but -- and herein lies the twist -- none of the actors on stage performing identify as heterosexual, or cisgender, men.

The playwright, Jaclyn Backhaus, wrote in the casting note, “The characters in ‘Men On Boats’ were historically cisgender white males. The cast should be made up entirely of people who are not.”

Weidenhamer said, “We do have those that would identify in the trans-world as trans-femme and also gender-fluid and non-gender-conforming. It’s been an interesting opportunity for those in the cast that never really get the opportunity to be bear killers.”

Additionally, about half of the cast are new to Stratton Players.

“It’s been a real pleasure to see it come alive because I’ve never seen the play or read it,” Weidenhamer said. “I picked it up and thought it was a great to give an opportunity to women in community theater. I believe it isn’t a social-justice piece, but an opportunity for non-cisgender white men to get roles they wouldn’t normally get.”

Weidenhamer said his main focus for the play is bravery and adventure. The set is made up of multileveled, multitiered platforms that make up the cliffs the characters climb and river rapids they maneuver throughout the expedition.

“You don’t see many plays that have such strenuous acting,” Weidenhamer said. “They’re rowing rapids and also drowning in whirlpools and going down waterfalls.”

He said the play is a “kind of marathon” for the actors. They rehearsed for their roles by practicing a performance technique for movement improvisation before settling on their own forms of interpretation to transform the stage of The Alumni Center for the Performing Arts into the treacherous landscape of the Grand Canyon.

Weidenhamer said he selected classical music and dramatic scores, and cut different pieces and rearranged it, to punctuate key points in the crew’s adventurous expedition.

“These were men who had never explored such a thing before, and they had no idea where they were going. You could not contain these type of men who would rather live a day of adventure than live a day of domestic life,” Weidenhamer said.

Among the cast is Nykol Fisher, 14, who is a DASH award nominee as Best Youth Actress for the Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theatres.

“Not only do we have a diverse case in terms of gender and race but also age,” Weidenhamer said. “We have people in their mid-60s but also as young as 14, so it’s really nice. There has been unanimous unity and acceptance from the very first minute among all the cast, which has been especially positive.”

General admission is $14, member admission is $12, and ages 12 or younger is $7.50. Tickets can be purchased at strattonplayers.com ; all major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be purchased at the door for cash only.

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Festival

Meander among 100 bountiful booths featuring regional artists, farmers, community organizations and garlic cuisine at the 20th Annual North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival, 60 Chestnut Hill Road, Orange. More than 80 engaging workshops, activities and performances are scheduled throughout the weekend. The festival is open from Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets cost $5 for adults and kids 12 and under are free. A weekend pass is $8.

Flowers

The Tower Hill Botanic Garden, 11 French Drive, Boylston, will host its annual Dahlia Show on Saturday and Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.. It is one of the most popular flower shows of the year, largely because of the wide variety of this stunning flower that will be on display. After experiencing the show, take advantage of Tower Hill’s gardens where dahlias and many other blooms are spread throughout the landscape. Cost is included with admission to the Botanic Garden.

Food

Enjoy great food at the ninth annual BBQFest at Wachusett Mountain, 499 Mountain Road, Princeton, on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be barbecue, lively music, a beer tent, OysterFest, a pig roast and family entertainment, along with a farmer’s market, vendors and more. The event benefits The Greg Hill Foundation. Tickets cost $9 in advance for adults and $12 at the door, and $4 in advance for kids 6-12 and $7 at the door; kids 5 and under are free. Purchase tickets at Wachusett.com .

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