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BENEATH SPRINGHILL (Posted On: Tuesday, August 09, 2016)

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Created and Performed by Beau Dixon
Lyrics and Music by Rob Fortin and Susan Newman
Directed and Developed by Linda Kash

Photo credit Stephen Wild

"Way way down with a shovel and a pick
I'll be digging coal till I'm old and sick
And I tell my kids I do it all for you
If I dig coal you won't have to dig coal too"

Beneath Springhill is a powerful story of a Canadian hero, told through song like never before.  "We are delighted to be bringing this important story to our Theatre Collingwood audiences.  One that will both entertain and also highlight an event in our Canadian history.  Audiences will not be disappointed by Beau Dixon's incredible talent and this outstanding performance." Erica Angus, Theatre Collingwood Executive Director.

Beau Dixon stunningly portrays no less than 10 characters in this show, and his talent as a singer is itself worth the price of admission. The set is simple, but very effective. The production just ran at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque to SOLD-OUT audiences, and will conclude Theatre Collingwood's summer theatre festival. Angus has continued to program a very diverse playbill for audiences and is receiving great reviews from all in attendance.

BENEATH SPRINGHILL is the story of Maurice Ruddick, "the singing miner," an African-Canadian who survived nine days underground during the historic Springhill mining disaster of 1958. This multi-award-winning one-man show recalls the events during the disaster, the effect it had on the rural Canadian community, and the racial tension that grew from it. The play is a celebration of hope, courage and community.

In October 1958, at the Springhill mine in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, an underground earthquake, or "bump," trapped 174 miners two miles below the surface in the No. 2 colliery.

Photo credit Stephen Wild

While 75 people perished in the mining disaster, another 99 survived, among them the "singing miner," Maurice Ruddick. Ruddick, a father of 12, would later be named Canada's citizen of the year, the first African-Canadian to be bestowed the honour, for his efforts over the nine days he was trapped to keep his colleagues' spirits buoyed with his joyous singing and unfailing optimism. But the story doesn't end there, as Ruddick faces discrimination after he emerges even with his newfound celebrity status.

The one-actor play stars Beau Dixon, who also wrote it and is in charge of sound. Not only does Dixon play the charismatic Ruddick, he also plays a CBC reporter, Ruddick's wife and 10-year-old daughter, and the collection of oddball miners trapped alongside him, each distinct from the other. Impressive.

It is also a physically demanding performance, as Dixon sometimes even switches characters, and positions, mid-conversation, and shifts from hushed conversation one moment to boisterous song the next. You can’t keep your eyes off of him, and his singing - Dixon has recorded three solo albums - is spot on. Credit is due to Rob Fortin and Susan Newman, the husband and wife team responsible for the lyrics and music, respectively. The songs felt as if they were written in the era of the play.

While Dixon's portrayal of the charismatic Ruddick is the play's greatest strength, it’s not the only one. Director Linda Kash utilizes the entire stage, with Dixon singing and shovelling coal one minute, rocking back and forth, mumbling the next.  The innovative use of lighting makes the stage seem bigger than it actually is.

Often, when I go to the theatre, sometimes I grudgingly rise to my feet, along with the rest of the audience, to offer a standing ovation as the curtain falls. When the lights dimmed at Beneath Springhill's opening, I couldn't wait to stand up first so I could join them and give Dixon the recognition he deserves for what I felt was the most engaging, moving performance I've seen in a long time.  Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

Photo credit - Stephen Wild


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