Posted July 14, 2022
The Interview – Beau Dixon
Beau Dixon is a multi-award winning playwright, actor, composer and sound designer. Four of Beau’s one-act plays have been performed in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools throughout Canada. Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story won two Dora awards (Best New Play and Best Performance/ TYA Division), the Calgary Critics Award (Best Individual Performance), and two Betty Mitchell nominations (Best Touring Play, Best Male Performance). In 2016 he was a KM Hunter Award finalist and was also inducted into Peterborough’s Pathway of Fame for his leadership in the dramatic arts. Beau is artistic director and co-founder of Firebrand Theatre. He continues to write and perform, dividing his time between Peterborough and Toronto.
Beau, you have performed Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story many times in many different cities and towns. Do you know approximately how many shows you’ve done?
I can’t be too clear on how many shows I’ve done in total. It was originally created as a touring show for students in 2013. The first three years, I performed two shows a day for two months of the school year…So, that’s 180 shows…Then, I started performing in theatres throughout Canada…So, maybe 500 performances…Wow! That’s a lot!
While you were researching Maurice Ruddick’s life, you met with some of his family members. Can you tell us more about that experience?
When I was doing research on the Springhill mining disaster, I knew it was important to hear from the community and anyone related to Maurice. His wife had just passed away, but I managed to get hold of one of his daughters. She was helpful, but not into sharing that much information about her father. A few weeks later, her older sister Valerie reached out to me and said she’d be willing to chat. Valerie was very helpful. I’d send her a draft of the script and she’d send it back to me with notes and offer certain changes for historical accuracy. As the playwright, it was such a gift to have close contact with someone that not only knew the protagonist so well, but Valerie was also a strong and positive force in getting the play to where I wanted it to land for the audience. She was so enthusiastic, she actually asked me to write her into the play. So I did! That’s where I got the idea of having her twelve-year-old self as one of the narrators of the story.
When you wrote Beneath Springhill, you collaborated with Susan Newman and Rob Fortin, who wrote the music and lyrics, respectively. How did you decide to work together? How did that process work?
I’ve always been a fan of Susan and Rob’s work. I consider them Canada’s “Rogers and Hammerstein.” There are very few writers like them in the theatre industry these days. The style of musicals has evolved so much—for better or worse. I knew I wanted to collaborate with writers who could write for a certain era, writers who understood the lifestyle of the working class in the mid-’50s. I gave them the script with asterisks scribbled in where I wanted music and lyrics. I had already booked a school tour, so I was on a bit of a deadline to get the play finished. They sent me songs two weeks later. And that was that. It was the most proficient writing partnership I’ve ever been a part of.
Last month, you recorded an audiobook version of Beneath Springhill for Scirocco. How was that different from performing in front of a live audience? Why do you think it’s important to have an audiobook version of the play available?
It was really fun recording an audiobook of the play. It felt very natural. I’ve always wanted to do it. I think it’s the perfect play for an audiobook. There’s so much action in the dialogue, and the storytelling really takes you back to the radio days—it’s a reminder of how effective a simple story is as a source of entertainment. I learned a lot about my writing and what to do with future storytelling. It’s important to have an audiobook version of the play because it makes the story more accessible. It makes me happy to know that potentially anyone in the world can now hear my play. Of course, there’s nothing like seeing it live in a theatre. But, sometimes it’s nice to let your own imagination be guided by just the words.
Beau, you are one of the busiest actors I know. Are you finding time to work on other writing projects? If so, can you give us a sneak peek at any new works-in-progress?
I won’t lie to you; life has been busy for me—and I’m very blessed! And through it all, I’m actually able to continue writing—very slowly! I’m currently co-creating a show about Al Purdy, Canada’s poet laureate. It’s a theatrical song cycle called The Shape of Home. We’ll be performing it in Prince Edward County this month and then taking it to Toronto. I’m also creating a show for Stratford Festival called Freedom 2.0: Black Music That Shaped the Dream of America. So yes, I’m definitely busy! Life is good!