Music and heroism two miles underground

Beau Dixon tells the real-life story of Maurice Ruddick in his one-person show Beneath Springhill as part of Neptune Theatre's Neptune at Home program

Beau Dixon performs in his one-person chamber musical chronicling the life of Maurice Ruddick, an African Canadian who survived the historic mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia in 1958.
Beau Dixon performs in his one-person chamber musical chronicling the life of Maurice Ruddick, an African Canadian who survived the historic mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia in 1958.

Last seen in Neptune Theatre’s critically acclaimed and award-winning production of The Color Purple, Beau Dixon returns to Halifax with his one-person show, Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story, as part of the theatre company’s Neptune at Home program.

Beneath Springhill tells the real-life story of how this African-Canadian coal miner saved six other miners’ lives in the 1958 Springhill, Nova Scotia mining disaster.

Using music, Ruddick kept the morale up long enough for the men to be rescued from two miles beneath the ground after nine days. For his heroism, Ruddick was named citizen of the year.

Beneath Springhill is ultimately about family, about the sacred gift of music, about hope,” says Dixon.

Dixon’s journey with Beneath Springhill began almost ten years ago when a fellow artist told him about Ruddick and felt he would relate to his story. As he delved into Ruddick’s life, he found several connections.

“Maurice was of mixed race, as am I, and my parents met on the east coast,” explains Dixon. “My dad’s from New Brunswick, and my mom’s from Halifax, and they met at Acadia University.”

The links between the two men went even further as both Dixon’s father came from large African-Canadian families. “Maurice was also a regular churchgoer, and my dad is a minister,” says Dixon.

Their shared love for music would be the ultimate connection. “To hear the story about how music saved lives, it was a no-brainer that I would tell Maurice’s story.”

It would also be the reason Dixon decided the only way to tell Maurice’s story was through music.

“I should make it clear that technically it is not a musical. It’s a chamber musical,” says Dixon. “The music is Maurice singing to the miners and is implemented more like an extension of who Maurice is as a character.”

For the original music performed in Beneath Springhill, Dixon turned to friends Rob Fortin and Susan Newman. “I knew they would be best suited to write the music,” he says. “They speak the language and understand what it is like to be raised in a mining family.”

And while developed as a one-person show due to financial constraints, Dixon says if he had to do it again, he would not change a thing.

“It’s more of a personal journey for me as an actor, and I look forward to the challenge,” says Dixon, who plays all ten characters in the show. “It also storytelling at its best with one person using their imagination and gathering a multitude of people together is such a magical experience.”

Recently filmed in Peterborough, this version of Beneath Springhill is a big step from a version earlier this year presented on Facebook Live.

“At the time, we just had a laptop, and we hung black curtains up in my apartment,” he explains. “But it was such a big hit, and we felt confident that we could put a bit more money into it.”

Audiences will get the opportunity to see Beneath Springhill’s latest incarnation as it makes its premiere this month as part of Neptune at Home. And while Dixon admits in this time of physical distancing that while traditional theatre has given way to digital storytelling, he is excited to share Ruddick’s story as is Neptune Theatre’s artistic director Jeremy Webb.

“We are thrilled to bring this brave and beautiful Nova Scotian story to our audience,” says Webb. “We want to continue to share engaging and relevant theatrical productions and to keep supporting the theatre community during this unprecedented time.”

Beau Dixon’s Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story streams as part of Neptune Theatre’s Neptune at Home program for a limited run until October 20. Visit neptuneathome.com for more information.