The part Sara Paupini plays in "Men on Boats," up and running at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park beginning Friday, isn't necessarily the most pleasant of historic characters.
"I play O.G. Howland, and sometimes he wasn't the most likable dude," said Paupini, one of 12 women playing male roles in the Patrick White-directed production that tells the story of the first expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. "But that's OK. Sometimes it's a lot of fun to play that kind of character."
The show is being staged by the Patrick White Acting Class, which includes members of his group -- some of them well-established actresses in local community theater, and some a bit newer to the craft. White himself has been one of the Capital Region's top actors for more than 20 years, and he's also well-known for his directing work throughout the region, including at Curtain Call Theatre, Albany Civic Theater and Schenectady Civic Playhouse, to name a few.
The stage play "Men on Boats" was written by Jaclyn Backhaus and earned plenty of off-Broadway reviews during the 2017 season. It is based on the 1869 expedition through the Grand Canyon led by one-armed Civil War major John Wesley Powell. Powell's story was much celebrated during his day, and in 1960 Walt Disney made a movie based on the expedition called "Ten Who Dared."
"Everybody in the show is playing a real historical person," said Paupini. "O.G. Howland was a publisher and adventurer who brought along his little brother on the expedition. There are historic journals out there with biographies of all the men who were on the trip. It really helped me get a sense of the man, and there's maybe some artistic license being taken but I did get the sense Howland wasn't that likable."
Paupini is a Loudonville native who currently lives in Clifton Park. An attorney for the state Education Department, she had a small role in the Curtain Call Theatre production of "Harvey" back in 2010. In the past three years, however, she's stayed busy moonlighting as an actress. In March 2016, she was in "Measure for Measure" at Schenectady Civic, and in October 2016 was back at Schenectady Civic in "Rapture, Blister, Burn." In 2017 she did two more shows, "The Game's Afoot" at Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs and "Fifth of July" at Schenectady Civic.
Earlier this year, Paupini wasn't in a show but did start taking classes with White.
"I love our Saturday morning classes because everyone has so much energy and creativity," said Paupini. "Being able to work with all these same people on a full-scale production was something I wasn't about to say no to. Taking things to the next level with Patrick and this group is a unique opportunity."
Part of the fun for Paupini has been watching White direct the production.
"It takes place during the mapping of the Colorado River, so there's a lot of physicality to it," she said. "My background in dance has helped, but the whole idea seemed very interesting and challenging. We're trying to recreate heading down the Colorado River, and seeing Patrick conjure up ways to do that is fascinating."
For White, doing a play written for actresses playing male characters made perfect sense.
"I was directing a production of a popular play at a local theater recently and the play called for five men and two women, and I got a pretty good turnout of 30 actors showing up for auditions. There were 10 men and 20 women. So, if you're a man, your chances of getting cast were 50/50, and if you were a women it was one in 10," White said.
"I know all of my students knew this and I'm late to the game, but I had never seen an example presented so starkly before of the need to offer more opportunities for women in the Capital Region," continued White. "I saw the Clubbed Thumb production of 'Men on Boats' at Playwrights Horizons in New York and thought it was hysterical while offering a galvanizing piece of physical theater of a story I had never heard before."
Playing the lead role of Powell is Albany's Cori Irwin, who was in the 2017 production of "Angles in America" by the Local Actors Guild of Saratoga. Making up the rest of the cast are Debra Bercier, Iris Singer, Susan Katz, Maghen Ryan, Victoria Vine, Susan Dantz, Jeanette Horowitz, Laura Darling, Myrna Bernstein and Mary Williams.
'Men on Boats'
WHERE: Sand Lake Center for the Arts, 2880 NY Route 43, Averill Park
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Sept. 23; performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: Call (518) 674-2007 or visit www.slca-ctp.org