Tickets for ‘Men on Boats,’ Playwrights Festival on sale now

Photo courtesy Bill Hudson
The female cast of “Men on Boats” present an unorthodox version of the 1869 John Wesley Powell Expedition down the Colorado River as part of Thingamajig Theatre Company’s 2019 Playwrights Festival at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts Oct. 11-27. The festival will also feature new works in progress by playwrights Heidi Kraay and Jay Koepke.

By Bill Hudson
Special to The PREVIEW
Veteran Thingamajig Theatre Company director Melissa Firlit is helming the 2019 Playwrights Festival at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts (PSCA) to kick off the 2019-2020 winter season — the ninth season for Pagosa’s professional theater company.
The festival will feature new plays by up-and-coming playwrights Jay Koepke and Heidi Kraay, as well as a fully-produced, 10-actor staging of a true-life but totally contemporary adventure story that winds its way down the uncharted Colorado River in 1869.
“Men on Boats” by playwright Jaclyn Backhaus opens tomorrow night, Friday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m., to present an unusual portrayal of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 scientific exploration of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. In Backhaus’ original script from 2015, the 10 men who set out from Green River, Wyo., to survey the river are played by actors identifying as “female” — lending sometimes humorous, sometimes revealing, insights into a true story adventure.
The show plays through Oct. 27 in the PSCA Black Box theater.
“The story is told seriously,” explained Thingamajig Artistic Director Tim Moore, “but it makes occasional contemporary references — a ‘wink and a nod’ sort of thing — for the audience to enjoy. But the acting is played straight, just as if the female actors were the men, themselves.”
“Men on Boats” is a fully produced show — in contrast to the fledgling plays that will be “under construction” during the 2019 Playwrights Festival this month, also hosted at PSCA.
This year, the festival will explore new plays by Koepke and Kraay. The festival audience is invited to watch the unfolding development of the plays as they are explored by Thingamajig’s professional actors under the guidance of Firlit.
The featured plays include “After Owen” by Koepke and “See in the Dark” by Kraay. The first reading of the featured plays is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 15, with final readings on Sunday, Oct. 20, and Thursday, Oct. 24. The festival will also feature works in progress by Pagosa Springs youth on Oct. 26, and readings of three additional new plays by Koepke and Kraay on Oct. 17 and 23.
Tickets for the 2019 Playwrights Festival include admission to all of the above-mentioned events.
“See in the Dark” by Kraay tells a futuristic story of a young girl showing up in Juneau, Alaska — now a struggling and desolate village — where the surviving community embraces her as their new hope — until a boy is found hunting her down with brutal accusations. Set in Alaska after all the glaciers have melted and the ice fields have vanished and nothing is recognizable, “See in the Dark” presents a mythic look at the value of compassion over suspicion.
In Koepke’s new work in progress, “After Owen,” recently married David loses his celebrity chef husband and finds himself widowed and alone before the age of 30. Meanwhile, Owen’s spirit won’t let David rest until he has finished repairing Owen’s relationships with his ex-wife and child. By asking us to suspend our disbelief, “After Owen” leads us to deeper truths about growing up, fortitude and forgiveness as David takes ownership of his new life.
Tim Moore said, “The thing we do with the Playwrights Festival, which is obviously new works that are being read and tested, and presented in a staged reading format — we’re anchoring that with a fully-fleshed out newer play. Last year, we featured Dennis Elkins’ play, ‘Box,’ which just so happened to not require any set — it was a fully realized play, but all Dennis needed was a cardboard box. This year, with ‘Men on Boats,’ we have a full production with 10 actors on stage. So ‘Men on Boats’ anchors the festival and everything else during the Festival are works in progress.”
Tickets for “Men on Boats” and for the 2019 Playwrights Festival can be purchased, individually or as part of a winter season ticket package, on the PSCA website,, or by calling 731-SHOW (7469).

This story was posted on October 10, 2019.