Featured Playwright — Beau Dixon

Playwrights Guild of Canada
6 min readFeb 1, 2024

Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Beau Dixon, an award-winning actor, musician, playwright, music director, and sound designer based in Ontario, Canada. He is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Firebrand Theatre, an educational theatre company giving life to stories that inspire youth, and an Artistic Associate for 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook, Ontario. Beau is also the Music Director for Sheridan College, Lakefield College School, and the Stratford Festival.

Audiences may have seen Beau on stage in Guys ’n’ Dolls (Stratford Festival), Ghost Quartet (Crow’s Theatre), Harlem Duet (Tarragon Theatre), and The Colour Purple (Neptune Theatre). As a composer, music director and sound designer, he has worked with the Stratford Festival, Vertigo Theatre, Crow’s Theatre/ County Stage, Sheridan College, and Talk Is Free Theatre.

Look for his appearances in Station Eleven (HBO/Paramount) and The Expanse (Amazon Prime). Beau is the recipient of three Dora Mavor Moore Awards (Toronto), two Toronto Critics’ Awards, and a Calgary Critics Award. He has been nominated for a Betty Mitchell Award (Calgary), and he was a KM Hunter Award finalist. To learn more about the talented Beau Dixon, visit his website.

Tell us how you got your start writing plays.

Well, my writing career began around the same time I got my first professional acting gig. It was in early 2000, performing and touring various historical fiction plays in elementary and secondary schools throughout central Ontario with a theatre company in Peterborough called Arbor Theatre. We’d tour this play every year for Black History Month. In fact, the only reason why I got the acting gig was because the producer couldn’t find any other person of colour that lived in Peterborough. They needed an actor of colour to play the role of the slave in chains. After a while, I complained to the producer about the content, and he suggested I either quit or write a play that I thought was more suitable. At that moment I agreed to the challenge of writing a play. When I got home, I was shaking with anxiety. I had never written a play before! What was I getting myself into?! But, looking back…I’m grateful that theatre producer took a chance with me. It catapulted my writing career.

Many of your plays are focused on Black historical figures, such as Viola Desmond and Maurice Ruddick. How do you approach writing a play based on real individuals, and why do you feel these stories are important to share?

I started writing plays because I wanted to know more about where I was from. Who my ancestors were. What does it mean to have brown skin?…It was curiosity that got me into this mess! But, it’s addictive. The more I write, the more I learn about these unsung heroes! And there’s a part of me that feels that if I don’t write about a part of our history, no one else will!

My approach to writing real individuals- or as I like to call them ‘historical fiction’ plays- is starting with an incredible amount of research. I find out as much as I can about the subject I’m writing about. If it’s a specific person, I dig deep and find out whether they were left or right handed. What was their favourite food- everything about them! I think it was Stephen Sondheim who said; ‘God is in the details’. It’s so true! It’s amazing how much raw meat is stored in the nooks and crannies of our existence. When writing about Maurice Ruddick, I was fortunate to be in contact with his third oldest daughter Valerie. She would graciously talk to me on the phone in great lengths about her Dad, who was considered a hero for saving the lives of six other miners in the 1958 mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia. Because I was in direct contact with Maurice’s daughter, I could get more of a personal take on what type of a family man and financial provider he was for his wife and twelve kids. This allowed me to empathize more with the protagonist and in so doing, create a richer, more truthful and defined character. The more we read, the more we know. Context is everything. It’s where we discover the conflict.

Can you share what led you to co-found Firebrand Theatre, a company committed to staging stories for young audiences?

What led me to starting up Firebrand Theatre was the fact that I had stories to tell and I wanted to act but no one was hiring me. So, I decided to tour my own shows to public schools and high schools. By having previous touring experience as a debut actor, I already knew what NOT to do, and I understood the “do’s and don’t’s” of creating and producing a portable set with minimal cast. I assembled a reliable administrative team to solicit REALLY good stories that coincided with school curriculums and I was on my way. In no way does it pay all the bills, but it helped establish me as an artist in the industry.

What advice would you offer playwrights who are writing plays to be presented in an educational setting?

Find stories and topics that mean something to you. Don’t force it. If you can relate to it, run with it. But, don’t write something just because you think that’s what the people want to see and hear. Dare to be different. Students and educators want to get excited about something they have never read about in the history books. They want pleasant surprises.

On February 24, you will be performing your docu-concert Freedom: The Spirit and Legacy of Black Music with the London Symphonia in London, ON. Can you tell us about the creation of this piece, and what inspired you to write it?

I was approached by Antoni Cimilino (Artistic Director of Stratford Festival) to write a music concert focusing on black music. He had no idea what the show would be, but he knew that he wanted me to be the creator, music director and performer. So, I came up with the idea of creating a show that chronicled the evolution of black music over two centuries. I wanted to demonstrate how black music has revolutionized and influenced numerous genres of music, as well as our western culture. So, there’s a very broad stroke of old spirituals, blended with gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul….We perform songs by Bob Marley, Leadbelly, Memphis Minnie, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce….The list goes on. After I presented it at Stratford Festival, promoters caught on to how exciting the show is. We’ve toured the show throughout central Ontario, and now we’re now taking it to London, Ont. to perform with an orchestra. It’s all very exciting!

What are you working on next?

I’m co-writing a musical with Jewelle Blackman about Bessie Coleman, the first African American female aviator. We’ll be presenting it as a public workshop/ reading at the Harlem Jazz Museum in New York in May 2024.

Do you have any favourite Canadian plays and/or which artists are currently inspiring you?

I’ve always been inspired by Daniel MacIvor. Everything he does is brilliant! I’m a big fan of Andrew Moodie. It was great to act along side him in his brilliant play The Real McCoy. Being directed by Djanet Sears for Harlem Duet was up there as a ‘favourite Canadian theatre experience’. I forever love D’bi Young and Kat Sandler. Hannah Moscovitch is always exciting. I hope to work with her some day. And, of course Andrea Scott. Yup…That’s a lot of Canadian talent!

Find out more about Freedom: The Spirit and Legacy of Black Music, with the London Symphonia on Saturday, February 24, 2024 in London ON here.

And keep up with Beau through his website beaudixon.com and on social media through Instagram (@bdslips) or Twitter (@beauslips).

Disclaimer: Playwrights Guild of Canada (“PGC”) is a national arts service mandated to engage and grow an active Canadian writing community. We promote Canadian plays around the world to advance the creative rights and interests of professional Canadian playwrights for the stage. The views of our members are their own. The opinions of PGC as an association remain neutral.



Playwrights Guild of Canada

Established in 1972, PGC is a registered national arts service association committed to advancing the creative rights and interests of Canadian playwrights.