AMHERST – It takes talent to write and act in a one-man show. It takes exceptional talent to do all three so well it captures and maintains the attention of a gymnasium full of junior high school students.
“If you show the kids the history, they will retain it,” said Beau Dixon, creator of ‘Beneath Springhill; The Maurice Ruddick Story’.
Dixon is touring his one-act portrait of Ruddick in Nova Scotia this week. The play’s premiere came at the start of February in Ontario, where Dixon’s theatre company, Firebrand, is based. He performed at E.B. Chandler Junior High School this afternoon.
Ruddick was an African-Canadian coal miner who was working in Springhill’s number two mine when the bump of 1958 struck. He was one of six men stranded together who escaped after more than a week underground. A seventh man who was with the group, Percy Rector, didn’t survive.
The play is infused with Ruddick’s love of music, and Dixon moved seamlessly from character to character, dialogue to song.
“I thought it was really good,” said Grade 8 student Josh Sauveur. “I knew a little bit about it…but he made it interesting.”
Nick Green was also impressed.
“It shows the history of places around here,” said the eighth grader.
The history of places around here is one of Dixon’s favourite topics. His mother is from Halifax, and his father’s from New Brunswick. This is the third play he’s written based in Nova Scotia.
A student question and answer session after the performance was informative.
“I had to research a lot for this play,” said the playwright.
Dixon said he was in touch with one of Ruddick’s daughters as part of the development process. It took him a year to write the show.
A few children made a point of approaching the artistic director after the performance to compliment his work. An adult joined them. It was a relative of Percy Rector. The play had clearly made a powerful impression on the man. He declined offering a comment to the newspaper but he didn’t need to: his reaction to Dixon’s performance was statement enough.
Dixon is performing a second show tonight in Springhill, at the Dr. Carson and Marion Murray Community Centre. He was assisted with sound at the junior high school by student Tyler Buchanan.