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Men on Boats

by Jaclyn Backhaus

2021-2022 Season Purdue Theatre Production
Directed by William W. Lewis
Scenic Design by Carrie Ferrelli
Costume Design by Carlee Wuchterl
Lightning Design by Denisse Chavez
Sound Design by Huhao Yang
Technical Director: Trevor Marshall
Opening Night: April 14, 2022




Men on Boats operates as a humorous re-historization of the mythic ideals of manifest destiny, American expansion, colonization of new territory, and tropes related to the heroic idealism of the old west. It shows the historical event of Powell team's expedition of the Colorado River in 1869 by selecting non-white male casts, breaking the conventional shaping process of the history we are seeing today, and guiding the audience to think about the diversity and the role individuals can play in defining our human history.  It is important for design team to embrace the dynamic and utilized the interplay between multiple binaries. The overarching metaphor is that of flow and fluidity and its relationship to stasis, rigidity, and control. The flow of time, the flow of water, the flow of progress, and the flow of impossibly searching for something better. The flow of the river cuts through rock to form canyons and in doing so creates new layers upon layers of memory and history.

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Sound Design Concept

Huhao Yang

Men on Boats is a play about an adventure in the American West. It casts new perspective on the historical event of Powell’s expedition of the Colorado River by casting the team of men with women and non-binary actors, breaking the conventional process of shaping history and guiding the audience to think about the diversity of perspectives in making and telling human histories. The relationship of the story to water and the river makes this show and the sound design highly dynamic. The musical score incorporates many orchestral elements. When the brave boats team sails on the fast-flowing Colorado river, the grand and bright orchestration is meant to evoke a sense of thrill and adventure. Rhythmic percussion and brass instruments also add a flair of western adventure. When the team rests on the banks or sings by the campfire, brisk guitars are incorporated. These scenes, in contrast to the intensity of the river scenes, provide a sense of humor in the play. When the team finally arrives at the end of the Grand Canyon after all their hardships, the music strives to help the audience think about history in a gentle way, and bring the story to a thoughtful epilogue. In addition to the music, the sound effects design hopes to intricately balance turbulent water in the river with insects on the bank at night, to bring the audience into an immersive theatrical experience.

Composition & Cue Samples

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Men on Boats Main Themetheme music for Scene 1.5, Scene 3.6
00:00 / 00:53

The main theme music of Men on boats, the simple and lively melody accompanied by the interpretation of the symphony shows the brave spirit of the explorers and the perils of the journey on the Colorado River. 

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Waterfall Themefor Scene 3.3
00:00 / 03:08

Used for the scene when the boats team meet the waterfall, the layers of orchestra are stacked with the plot development. As the team got closer to the waterfall, the music became more tense. With a momentary pause, the team rushed down the waterfall, conquering the danger with their courage.

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Grand Canyonfor Scene 2.6
00:00 / 01:11

When the team finally came to the Grand Canyon after going through all the danger, they were shocked by the spectacular scene in front of them. The music accompanied by projection spread out the magnificent scenery of the Grand Canyon, fully reflecting the emotions of the characters.

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Rapid Themefor Scene 1.9
00:00 / 01:58

The Colorado River is full of unforeseen dangers, the boats can easily be capsized by the rapids. This music is used for the scenes when the boats team fights with dangerous rapids. The tense melody and high dynamic symphony can well show their struggle in the river.

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Tin FishOld Shady's Song
00:00 / 02:17
DryOld Shady's Song
00:00 / 01:01
WhiskeyDance Piece
00:00 / 01:06

When the boats returned to bank for rest, the atmosphere relaxed a bit, they enjoyed the cozy campfire, Old Shady would sing some little songs, and when the team found the lost whisky, they would also dance happily. In terms of music, the main instrument of the campfire scenes on the bank has also changed to a relaxed guitar. The three demos here are the accompaniment when Old Shady sings the songs and the dance piece when the team found the whiskey.

*Whiskey Dance Piece Rehearsal

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Scene Change 1Happy
00:00 / 00:27
Scene Change 2Sad
00:00 / 01:42
Scene Change 3Going down to the river
00:00 / 00:56
Scene Change 4Final Adventure
00:00 / 00:40

In all the scene transitions, I also designed various music pieces based on the guitar. These simple melodies all correspond to the emotional characteristic of the previous scene, and also set the tone for the following scene. Played a the role in connecting different emotions.

Dance Performance-Whiskey
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Qlab Session-total of 833 Individual Cues
Ending Scene
Tech Rehearsal

Sound Design Highlights: Slow Motion

In this show, the director has designed a large number of "slow motion" scenes in which the actors perform in slow actions on the stage, like when some characters fell from the boat into the river, in order to add dramatic tension, they were taken away from the boat by the actor who played "water" in a slow motion form. In a scene like this, the sound and music have to match the actions of the actors on stage, so I devised a few different ways to accomplish this transition.

1: Jump out of the original music and cut into another loop

This is a relatively blunt method, which is to cut out the original piece of music through the sound of a cymbal and enter another piece of music beyond the present time and space. This method does not sound natural in connection, but the advantage is that I can better control the time, and cooperate with actors well.

2: Natural transition to slow motion segment and switch to next piece

This is a way to let the normal scene naturally transition to the slow-motion section and then back to the natural scene. Through the music design, I made the first music piece naturally transition to the slow-motion section. After the slow motion, I set the fade up point to rise the level of the continues music and then let it jump back to the normal music.

3: Slow down the music with Qlab's speed adjustment

Qlab itself has the function of adjusting the speed of the sound piece. I can freely set the rate at which the music needs to be slowed down. Sometime it sounds a little strange, but it can also achieve the surreal effect that the director wants.

Sound Cue Sheet

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Sound System Design

A total of 32 loudspeakers were used in this show, and a large surround sound system was used in the audience area for doing the panning for the rapids and water sound effects, the audience can feel the sound of the raging river through the movement of the sound, so as to have a more immersive experience. And all the actors were wearing mics to match the high dynamic and loud score and sound effects in this production. According to the number of Amp channels in our theatre and the settings of Dante routing and control network, I designed this system for sound reinforcement, which plays a very good role in the presentation of my sound. For more detailed documents please download with the buttons below the drawings.

Sound System Design

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 For viewing more specific documentation please download the pdf files below

Sound Specification

Shop Order

Hookup Schedule

Routing Schedule


Sound Team
Sound Load in / Calibration
Sound Board Operator
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Show Highlights
Play Bill
Dancing Piece
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Show Highlights
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Men on Boats Stage
Stage Strike
21/22 Purdue Theatre Best Sound Design

Sound Team

Sound Designer:

Huhao Yang

Assist. Sound Designer:

Yunglin Shen

Production Sound Engineer:

Robert Cohen

Assist. Sound Engineer:

Stephen Tsai

Sound Board Operator-A1:

Keenan Hall

Mic Technician-A2:

Yugam Verma


Barry Funderberg

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