In the late 19th century (the setting for The Explorers Club) it seemed like there was still plenty of uncharted territory left to explore - or at least plenty of places left on Earth untouched by upper-class British adventurers. Now, in the 21st century, outer space and the ocean depths are common goals for exploration. However, one of the current expeditions sponsored by the modern-day Explorers Club is coming from a little bit different perspective. The Nexus Expedition is Dimitri Kieffer’s human-powered journey to circumnavigate the world. To this day, Kieffer has covered 11, 067 miles from Anchorage to Bukhara, Uzbekistan: trekking, swimming, skiing, rowing and cycling across Alaska, the Bering Strait, Far Eastern Russia, Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Summer and Fall of 2015 will be spent cycling towards the Western coast of Africa, where the row across the Atlantic Ocean will begin. Kieffer seeks not to plant flags or draw lines, but to create connections between different societies, civilizations and landscapes. Imagine, what will the future bring?
In just two weeks, Lyric Arts will kick off its 2015-2016 season with the ridiculously funny farce, The Explorers Club. The play is set in London, 1876 and the prestigious Explorers Club is in crisis: their acting president wants to admit a woman, and their bartender is terrible. True, this female candidate is brilliant, but the decision to let in a woman could shake the very foundation of the British Empire, and how do you make such an important decision without a decent drink?
To give you a sense of the historical context of this premise, the society that inspired this production, The Explorers Club, founded in New York City in 1904, accepted its first women in 1981. The Royal Society, perhaps the world’s most renowned fellowship of scientists, made its debut in 1660 and did not admit a woman until 1945. Canada’s Royal Society barred women until 1938, and France’s Academy of Sciences would not elect a woman to full membership until 1979, blackballing Marie Curie along the way. A recent study concluded that female playwrights are no more produced on Broadway than they were a century ago. In developing Phyllida’s character, playwright Nell Benjamin drew from her own life experiences breaking ground in a male-dominated profession and from female adventurers like Nellie Bly, Isabella Bird and Gertrude Bell.
The modern-day Explorers Club is a multi-disciplinary society dedicated to the advancement of field research and to preserving the instinct to explore. The Club provides expedition resources and maintains Research Collections to assist those engaged in exploration and scientific research. The Club actively encourages public interest in exploration and the sciences through its public lectures program and other events, such as their infamous Annual Dinner honoring accomplishments in exploration.
The Dinner is regularly attended by notable names such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin, documentary photographer and expedition leader Ally Alegra, and astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson. The dress code is "black tie or exploration attire” and, although none of the animals eaten are endangered, the menu is absolutely wild. Items have included deep-fried earthworms, python patties, roasted kangaroo, cockroaches with honey, and ice pops topped with crickets.
Although our production won't have such feral fare, there will be plenty of wild antics and outrageous characters lampooning the best and worst of the golden age of British exploration and imperialism. See you at the theater!