Thunder River Theatre’s new director dives into season with all-female Grand Canyon adventure comedy

Thunder River Theatre Company Artistic Director Missy Moore directs actors in their pioneer-era apparel at a rehearsal Tuesday.
Rich Allen / Post Independent
If You Go…

What: Thunder River Theatre Company’s “Men on Boats.”

Where/When: 67 Promenade, Carbondale, Thursday-Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 6 p.m. until Oct. 17.

Cost: $30 for traditional seating, $120 for four-seat pod in socially distanced seating.

More info:

Missy Moore wanted to give locals something that spoke to their interests and made them laugh when selecting the Thunder River Theatre Co.’s first show of the 2021 season.

She landed on “Men on Boats,” the comedic retelling of John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Grand Canyon in 1869, the first such cartographic investigation of the river. Jaclyn Backhaus’ interpretation replaces the all-male crew with female actors, adding an additional layer of tongue-in-cheek to the satirization. The show opens at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30.

Moore said the local ties to the Colorado River and the desire to be happy during COVID-19 made the choice a natural fit.

“Nobody wants to come to the theater and watch ‘Death of a Salesman’ after many of us have been witness to a lot of loss,” Moore said. “I just thought it’s something that will appeal to the community.”

She was drawn to the play’s premise of breaking down gender norms inside the theater landscape — easy to do in this case with the “large pool of women talent” in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The roles of male rafters presented a unique experience for the actors between taxing rafting scenes and playing the opposite gender.

“It’s challenging not only physically but creating characters that might be a little bit outside their comfort zone,” Moore said. “We’re certainly not asking them to emulate men. Their instrument is themselves.”

Part of the physicality comes from scenes full of rafting in highly-stylized theater fashion. More comes from scaling temporary walls built in the theater to replicate the Grand Canyon.

The theater’s limited stage space presented an obstacle for technical director Sean Jeffries, but the story’s setting presented a solution.

“The stage itself is really too shallow to accommodate 10 people, so I had to go up,” Jeffries said.

Moore comes to the theater for the 2021-22 season following the departure of Corey Simpson, who moved to the Eagle-Vail area, she said. Simpson served as artistic and executive director, meaning the company is now looking to fill his other role.

The new director brings decades worth of theater experience, including director credits in the Denver area, awards for her acting in “The Pink Unicorn” for the And Toto Too Theatre Company in 2018. In 2013, she won a Best Supporting Actress award for the Sopris Theatre Company at Colorado Mountain College, Spring Valley campus.

Her father has acted with Thunder River before and her mother followed a principal career at Roaring Fork High School as director of Sopris Theater Company and an adjunct professor at CMC.

Moore’s plans for Thunder River include improv shows, collaborations with other theater companies and cabaret classes in the spring.

With pandemic considerations in mind, Thunder River is producing both socially-distanced and full capacity shows for “Men on Boats.” Theater capacity will be 47 patrons and 99, respectively. Proof of vaccination will be required to enter.

Socially-distanced seating is available in pods of up to four for $120. Traditional seating will be $30 per ticket, with a $20 advocate ticket option offered to “anyone who needs it,” according to the company’s website, operating on an honor system to promote equity and access.

The shows will run Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 17. Start times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 6 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets and more information is available on the company’s website,