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BMDS to stage play within a play

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Made writing a play doubly difficult: Nathaniel Butterfield has written Death After Dessert, his first full-length play for the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society (Photograph by Kevin MacDonald)

For most Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society performances, the cast list is fairly straightforward – one actor equals one character. BMDS’ latest offering, Death After Dessert, is more complicated than that. The actors in Nathaniel Butterfield’s new drama, each take on two, three, sometimes even six roles.

Death After Dessert, debuting on July 25, is a radio play within a stage play.

“BMDS was looking for someone to direct a radio play, so I volunteered,” Mr Butterfield said.

A play within a play: Joshua Correia, left, Nicole Daponte, Nick Fagundo, Harmony DeCouto and Kim Day, performing Nathaniel Butterfield’s Death After Dessert, a play within a play (Photograph by Kevin MacDonald)

He had already written several scripts chosen for BMDS’ annual Famous for 15 Minutes playwriting competition, including The Murder of Johan Schmidt, earlier this year.

Death After Dessert is his first full-length play.

“I do not know that I would write one like this again,” he said. “I had to invent all the characters in the radio play, and I had to invent the characters who would be playing the people in the radio play. My wife, Louise Wakefield, said ‘you really make life difficult for yourself, don’t you?’”

The story is about a radio station in danger of going under due to the rising popularity of television. All their advertisers are starting to switch mediums.

The cast of Death After Dessert: Harmony DeCouto, left, Joshua Correia, Dalzell Tucker, Nicole DaPonte, Alan Gilbertson, Callie Lucas, Shyama Ezekiel-Fagundo, Kim Day, Susan Hill Davidson, Nick Fagundo (Photograph by Kevin MacDonald)

“It is 1956, and things are at that point where television is taking over,” Mr Butterfield explained. “The advertising manager, George, writes this little murder mystery play to draw in listeners.”

Almost all of the sounds in the production, such as birds singing, gunshots, and footsteps, happen on stage.

“Rain on a shutter will be a broom brushed across a louvred door,” producer Jenn Osmond Campbell said.

Mr Butterfield said: “Someone taking a bath involves taking two big coffee pots and just pouring one into the other. Our sound effects team are going to be very busy, and the actors are doing a phenomenal job.”

There were a couple of noises that were not achievable on stage, such as the sound of an aircraft. However, even that sound they may have conquered.

“The way sounds will be created keeps changing as we think of better ways to do things,” Mr Butterfield said.

The story is set in 1950s Wilhelmville, Wisconsin, a place and time period Mr Butterfield has never actually experienced.

“I chose that state because it was not ridiculously far west, and yet was just far west enough,” he said. “I was also inspired by old television shows like Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days.”

As a child growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, his grandparents would sometimes play radio recordings of old Sherlock Holmes mysteries or The Goon Show.

The Goon Show was the foundation of most modern British comedy,” he said. “That was a very strange and funny show. It does something interesting to the actors to have to just worry about what they are putting out, strictly through their voice.”

However, he has been instructing his actors to do it more “telenovela” with broader sweeps, because the audience has to be able to really feel the play through what is said.

Mr Butterfield runs Butterfield Insurance, but is no stranger to writing.

Years ago, he wrote for the Bermuda Sun, and also had a regular column in The Bermudian Magazine.

He wrote his first play for the Famous for 15 Minutes playwriting contest back in the early 2000s. It was not selected and neither was the second one he wrote either.

“Eventually, I got one in and then I was hooked,” he said. “As a writer, there is nothing like sitting in a room, listening to 100 people gasp, in just the right place. Then they laugh at some point where you did not mean for them to laugh.”

He started writing this latest play in November 2022. “I put a lot of work into it,” Mr Butterfield said.

Because Death After Dessert was structurally complicated, Mr Butterfield had to carefully choreograph the movements of every character. This involved some minor construction.

“I built a model of the stage out of cardboard,” Mr Butterfield said. “Then I found some discarded foam packing, and made little figures out of it. There was no art to it.

“I just made them look vaguely human, and wrote the name of each character on one. I also created blobs for the furniture. Then I took a series of photographs.

“If someone enters stage right, you need to know where they end up. You do not want them to be offstage, if you have written for them to be having a conversation on stage.”

His wife was his first reader, before his friend Alan Gilbertson had a look at Death by Dessert.

“Alan was eventually cast in the play,” Mr Butterfield said. “He gave me three or four really useful suggestions about how to handle certain things.”

Like any good old-time radio play, the script contains a number of advertisements. The products on offer are ones that would have been perfectly acceptable in the 1950s, but not so much today.

“There is gas with extra lead to stop the knocking,” Mr Butterfield said. “There is asbestos to keep the home warm. No brand names are used, but there are a couple of children’s toys in there that refer to real toys of the time period that were absolutely lethal.

“I remember having some of these toys as a child, such as lawn darts. They were really heavy and really spiky. My parents took them away from us worried that we would kill someone with them.”

Mr Butterfield also created a jingle for the radio play, with the help of musician Kate Ross.

The play is not written to contain any kind of deep message. Mr Butterfield just wants people to enjoy it. “I want people to have a good time,” he said.

• Death After Dessert will run from July 18 to 20, and July 25 to 27 at 7.30pm. Tickets are $35 available on www.ptix.bm. La Trattoria, in the Washington Lane in Hamilton, is offering a 10 per cent discount to ticket holders on show nights

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Published July 10, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated July 12, 2024 at 7:37 pm)

BMDS to stage play within a play

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