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Dale Butler stages rumble to highlight North Hamilton

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Full house: playwright Dale Butler, far right, with the cast of his latest play A Rumble in the All Saints Gingerbread House (Photograph supplied)

It has been eight years since Bermudian creative Dale Butler last produced a play. In 2014, his production Climbing Jacob’s Ladder was so popular he staged it three years in a row. He went on to write four other plays, all of them celebrating Bermuda’s culture and heritage, in some way. His previous one was The Second Last Supper in 2016.

“People are always asking when I am going to do another one,” the 71-year-old said.

That time has come. Next month he will launch A Rumble in the All Saints Gingerbread House, a fun murder mystery set in a rest home, full of quirky, ageing musicians.

It was partly inspired by time Mr Butler spent caring for elderly relatives. “In fact, I wrote this play in a clinic overseas,” he said.

He also made frequent trips to see an elderly uncle in a rest home in St George’s.

“Some of the residents would tell me how they were developing an escape plan,” Mr Butler laughed. “They never got very far. It was a good facility, and had an excellent matron.”

He wanted to write Rumble to celebrate the history of North Hamilton, which he feels never really gets told.

Although the storyline is fictional, the names dropped in it are real people and places from North Hamilton, where Mr Butler lives on Angle Street.

When he started at the Central School (now Victor Scott Primary), in the Fifties, segregation was still entrenched in the community, and there were very few scholarships for Black students to use to pursue further education.

To keep Mr Butler and his friends motivated, adults would point to successful people from North Hamilton.

“They kept on saying look at this person or look at that church leader,” Mr Butler said. “We had constant references to people who were achieving.”

Some of those people were politician George A. Williams, and son Coleridge Williams.

“I knew them when I was just a little kid running around the neighbourhood,” Mr Butler said.

A painting of pioneering attorney and acting magistrate Coleridge Williams (Photograph supplied)

Coleridge Williams was a member of the Progressive Group, responsible for the 1959 Theatre Boycott which ended segregation in theatres in Bermuda.

He also had his own law firm and was an advocate for the Bermuda Industrial Union. He died in 1975 at the age of 52 after a battle with cancer, three years after being appointed an acting magistrate.

“He was one of the first Black Bermudian magistrates,” Mr Butler said. “Yet, if you asked 100 people today, few of them would have heard of him.”

Rumble aims to educate through gentle story telling.

However, Mr Butler is finding it harder to stage plays in the way that he once did.

The backbone of his productions, Glen Iris, Quinton “Tiny” Burgess, John Holdipp, Gerald Simons, Clarence “Tootsie” Bean and Darlene Hartley, all died in the last three years. The play is dedicated to them.

This time around he has struggled to find committed actors.

“Even dramatic organisations like the Bermuda Music & Dramatic Society are struggling,” he said. “They recently sent out a message to say they would not be having a pantomime this year.”

However, there are still some regulars left such as Deborah Smith-Joell who has appeared in several of his plays.

“I am also Deborah Joell in Rumble,” Ms Smith-Joell laughed. “I’m a story teller and matron of the All Saints Gingerbread House.”

Ms Smith-Joell is well known on the local stage.

“I was in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Bermuda’s production of The Producers in 2012,” she said. “That year I also did Death by Disco with ‘Shine’ Hayward. That was fun. Then I came off the stage and directed and produced a couple of musicals for G&S.”

A newcomer to a Dale Butler production would be Cindy Swan, the cofounder of charity Project Action. She plays a banker in Rumble.

“I have the best role, because I am giving money,” she said. “I have been in the third sector for over thirty years, so it was nice to hear that the play was being put on to raise money for charity.”

She said rehearsing for the play has been great.

“I have gotten to meet some new people,” she said. “They are all experienced actors and actresses. Dale is phenomenal.

“He is always so over the top in everything he does, and so welcoming. The whole cast has gelled well together.”

She said after one production meeting everyone went home with a plate of food from Mr Butler. “I did not have to cook that night,” she said.

Mr Butler called the rest home in the play ‘Gingerbread’ because of the significance of the sweet treat in West Indian culture.

“Go to a West Indian home and you will be served gingerbread,” he said. “It goes well with ice cream.”

He plans to serve it at the end of Rumble. He said ticket sales have been going well, so far.

“Today, I have been sitting in front of my house selling Jamaican coffee, plants and tickets,” he said.

• Rumble will be held on June 7, 8 and 9 at 6.30pm at the Leopards Club International, at 12 Brunswick Street in Hamilton. Tickets are $45 and include the play, refreshments and entertainment. They are available, cash only, at The Music Box on Reid Street, Leopards Club or by delivery from Mr Butler by calling 595-9841 or e-mailing Daledbutler@gmail.com

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Published May 22, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 23, 2024 at 8:36 am)

Dale Butler stages rumble to highlight North Hamilton

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