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Theatre Orangeville production manager conducts research in N.S. for upcoming show

January 27, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

In October last year, Beckie Morris, Theatre Orangeville’s production manager, went to Springhill, Nova Scotia. As the set designer for Beneath Springhill, Theatre Orangeville’s next production, opening on Feb. 8, Ms. Morris had the chance to visit Springhill for research. Beneath Springhill, created by Beau Dixon stars Jeremiah Sparks.

“Mom only lives a hour away,” she said. “But I went there in October and the Springhill Museum was closed. I called and left messages for the museum curator and then decided to go anyway to look around the outside.”

Someone suggested spreading the word about Ms. Morris’ plan to drive to Springhill and where else would that go than Facebook? She got a very good reaction.

The Mayor of Springhill sent her a message that provided the telephone numbers for the people who run the museum and the mine site.

She told the Citizen, “A knock on the door was the nursewho was at Maurice Ruddick’s death bed. Various others came too, relatives, people who knew him. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people waiting to tell the stories.”

According to the publication issued by the then Museum of Industry in Springhill, “In the evening of October 23, 1958, a bump wracked No. 2 mine in Springhill”…which “was an old mine, and at 14,300 feet, believed to be the deepest in the world. This depth, combined with its average pitch of 25 degrees, made the mine prone to small ‘bumps.’ A coal mine bump is an underground earthquake, causing substantial movement in the earth…The underground earthquake sent floors, ceilings, and walls to meet each other, opened great chasms, poured coal and debris into open spaces to completely block levels, and cut off all communication below 7,800 feet. In the immediate aftermath, 81 men made their way to the surface. Then from the deeps was only silence.”

After six more days of digging, only to find bodies, the rescue teams heard voices through a pipe. This “led to the discovery and rescue of twelve men entombed at the 13,000-foot level…Three days later, seven more living miners were uncovered. ..The trapped men had kept their hopes alive [by] singing, praying, and banging on pipes in efforts to be heard.”

The paper records, that 75 men died in this bump and No. 2 mine was not reopened. The singing and praying of which the paper speaks was led and inspired in large part by the African-Canadian miner, Maurice Ruddick. The show opening next at Theatre Orangeville on Feb. 8, Beneath Springhill, is this story.

Arriving to the Mining Museum in Springhill that October day, Ms. Morris was given a warm reception, a private tour that included a few rather chilling moments.

Said Beckie Morris, “They opened the buildings for us. The Mining Museum was a great help. There were the original newspaper articles on the walls and I spent a hour asking questions about the equipment and the shaft. A lunch bucket had to be made of certain material so it wouldn’t cause sparks.”

The room where the men exchanged their metal for a helmet made quite an impression for the idea of “handing over your freedom before going down to the mine. The sheer depth underground is [terrifying].”

One person coming to meet and talk to Ms. Morris was a miner’s son. At high school, he was told emphatically that he had to get an education rather than be a miner.

Ms. Morris commented, “I come from such a place of privilege that I had to understand this, what they had to do to feed their families.”

She also grieved at the “idea of the [domestic] animals, the donkeys who are born and die in the dark in the mines. Otherwise, there are the more frightening rats. After a few days of being trapped after a “bump,” once the lamps go out, the men are: “Hearing less voices and hearing the rats. If a mine is closed for a couple of days, the rats become hungry and more aggressive. They feed them sometimes.”

During those terrible days of dark, she realized, “There are all those horrors; if you just keep positive so you don’t succumb to the terror.”

The lessons learned from Beckie Morris’ trip to Springhill have contributed to what we will soon see on the stage. She told us that she has taken a few liberties.

“We weren’t looking to create a replication of a real mine,” she remarked. “I was looking at photos of ‘bumps;’ all the previous bumps images were looking into the shaft not completely collapsed. The supports were started to turn, completely drawn in. 

“When I was talking to the director, showing the perspective, eerie collapse of turned props, he approved. The wood turns are quite black.”

She asks us to focus. The play is intense and riveting and the lighting will just focus into this point trying to create as small a space as possible to portray the truth. If there is an element of fear, you still have to live through it.

The light for the audience is, as Ms. Morris tells us, “Jeremiah [Sparks]. He is such a gifted storyteller. His ability to take on the characters and deliver the show is an incredible amount of work.”

What made this trip important to the set’s designer: “I really feel so much more connected to the piece by going there.”

She said, “I never had the chance to know, only had the arm’s length point of view. But standing amongst it really shook me and made me feel compassion, having put my hands on the space. I’m hoping people will benefit for my part in the telling.

“I’m really looking forward to the live stream [of the show], StageTOscreen is available with the people who helped me see it. That’ll be a lot of fun.”

Beneath Springhill opens at Theatre Orangeville on Feb. 8 and runs to Feb. 26. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to or call the Box Office 519-946-3423.

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