In September 2020 I was cast in a virtual production of Jaclyn Backhaus' play Men on Boats. I was to play a character named John Colton Sumner, an explorer in the 1869 Powell Expedition of the Grand Canyon. The offer to participate in the playmaking came at a precise tumultuous time in my life. The end of a love affair and the beginning of a brutal journey of healing out of heartache.
Jack Sumner kept journals during his adventure through uncharted lands as an act of preservation. When members of the party were deserting the expedition, they took Sumner's journals documenting the beginning of the trip. Those members did not survive, and for some time it was anticipated perhaps the writing did not either. Though, by some miraculous hand, a copy had been preserved prior to the undertaking.
Reading Sumner's words I am moved by his sorrow, his faith in the beauty of his surroundings, and the solitude he conjures within him. After the expedition concluded, Sumner, along with a majority of the team, were left with little to no accolades or funding. He faced severe depression and mourned the human losses he faced during the journey. In a recorded "state of despondancy" he went back to the river in the Canyon years later on the anniversary of their first day and castrated himself.
These entries mark the start of the expedition on May 24, 1869 and conclude once the party made it to the big mouth of the canyon on June 28, 1869.