I first heard of Men on Boats shortly after moving to New York City in August 2016, just before it closed at Playwrights Horizons, and as we all stood on the precipice of a turbulent time of reckoning in our country. A few months prior, Hamilton swept the Tonys and for the first time in the award ceremony’s history, four Black performers won in every musical acting category. Across the nation, many grappled with the question of how a story changes based on who is telling it; on a personal level, I was beginning to articulate my own shifting gender identity.
Enter this play about ten cisgender white men and their impact on this country, told by people who didn’t identify as cisgender white men. This casting conceit set up camp in my mind as I continued my own storytelling and theatrical journeys. Almost seven years later, it’s an honor to embark on this expedition, with this company, at an institution I’m proud to return to after graduating from UTK’s Theatre department in 2016.
During this process we’ve explored the concept of identity as a performance, played with masculine and feminine presentation, and incorporated modern materials alongside natural elements as a means of examining how our contemporary society juts up against history. We invite the audience to walk alongside us in considering some of the questions we’ve asked: What does it mean to “play a man” when you are a woman? Non-binary? A gender for which you’re still mapping a course and have yet to name? What pieces of yourself do you bring to the stage? What do you leave behind and what do you salvage following life’s various boat wrecks?
Men On Boats is a play about people who were once real, who are now more myth than man; the proof of their mortality is perhaps never more acutely felt than where we see their lives translated here, via the freedom of the public domain. But their stories live on, told by those whose decisions shape our world today just as Powell and his men shaped the story of this country in its infancy.
Ultimately, we all live here, both those of us who are alive and those who’ve left us with only their stories. Those who closely resemble these characters and those who don’t. We live on stolen land. On land that has been discovered and discovered and discovered—claimed and claimed again—with new names and descriptions that stretch across history and chart changes in this country of contradictions.
As you settle in for this journey, we hope you’ll join us in opening up your imagination, in embracing the idea that by boldly acknowledging our differences we are able to see our threads of common humanity in even brighter relief. In doing so, may we all be inspired to continue expanding the narrative until our stages look like our society and our society reflects the dreams of our most daring, inclusive stories.
Oars up, oars out—we’ll see ya down there,
ASHLEE LATIMER (Director) Ashlee is a writer, producer, and director focused on creating work that supports and celebrates young people and students of all ages. A Knoxville native, she is a proud alum of the University of Tennessee, Bearden High School, and the Knoxville Children’s Theatre. Her Broadway co-producing projects include Once On This Island (Tony Award), The Inheritance (Tony Award), and Be More Chill. Favorite directing credits include A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women. Her debut picture book, Francis Discovers Possible, was published with Abrams in 2022. She currently lives in Tennessee with her senior lab, Tyson, and takes the opportunity to travel whenever possible. You can find her online talking about books, theatre, and Pride & Prejudice (2005) at @ALNL on Twitter and @ashleelaurynnichole on Instagram. For Zack and Brandon.