Skip to main content

USD Theatre Reclaims History with 'Men on Boats'

USD students dressed in their costumes on stage for Men on Boats From left to right are Chloe Sand, Ella Williams and Josie Kasik in the USD Department of Theatre's production of "Men on Boats."

VERMILLION, S.D. – The University of South Dakota’s Department of Theatre presents a larger-than-life retelling of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Grand Canyon expedition with Jaclyn Backhaus’ "Men on Boats." Inspired by the famous accounts of the journey, this play recasts the historical male characters with female performers, turning the tale on its head. The play is an ode to the courageous pioneer spirit while providing a fresh take on American exploration, manifest destiny and how history is written.

Adventure, history and comedy blend together in this unique play to reimagine the first excursions of the Wild West. Ann-Houston Campbell, a second-year M.F.A. directing student at USD, directs this inspiring piece.

“Men on Boats is an epic, empowering tale of adventure. It’s funny, it’s engaging, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat as the voyagers journey through the canyon," said Campbell. "The show asks the question, ‘What stories from history are we missing?’ as it wrestles with the identity attached to the concept of genuine heroism.”

Campbell, the cast and the team of designers and technicians have been working since October to create the unique world of this play. Lighting, set, projections, costumes, a few simple hand props and the creativity of 10 female actors will transform the Knutson Theatre into the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, whitewater rapids, cliffs and rocky shores.

Although audiences may not be familiar with the play’s title, or even its historical source material, the play is sure to delight and empower. Campbell encourages audiences to come experience the raucous and over-the-top production of "Men on Boats."

“Audiences are in for a wild adventure with this side-splitting telling of this true(ish) American history lesson,” Campbell said.

Check out USD Theatre on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for interviews, photos and discounted tickets.

"Men on Boats" performs Feb. 20 – 22 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee performance on Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Wayne S. Knutson on the USD Campus. Tickets ($15 Adults, $12 Senior Citizen [62+], $10 K-12 & non-USD students with ID, and free for USD students with ID) can be purchased in the afternoons (12 – 5 p.m.) starting Feb. 17 at the USD Theatre Box Office or by calling 605-658-3484; tickets can also be purchased now online at


USD's College of Fine Arts encourages students to pursue their chosen professional field in art, music or theater through their study with nationally recognized faculty who are working professionals. Students learn and grow to be professional fine artists with great job potential anywhere in the country. The college offers opportunities for additional real-world experiences through work with guest artists, study tours abroad and opportunities at the National Music Museum and the University Art Galleries on the Vermillion campus and the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park. The college brings more than 80 guests artists to campus annually to work with students.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News