Famous 'Edmund Fitzgerald' sinking provides inspiration for Bay City thespians

The mysteries of the “SS Edmund Fitzgeraldtragedy will be brought to life on stage this November, giving viewers the opportunity to experience what those aboard the ship may have felt that heartbreaking day.

The Bay City Players, 1214 Columbus Ave., chose “Ten November,” a play is based on the book by Steven Dietz, with music and lyrics by Eric Peltoniemi. “Ten Novemberwill be directed locally by Elizabeth Dewey, assistant directed by Carrie Butler, and musically directed by Robin Devereaux-Nelson. The Bay City Players boasts the title of Michigan’s longest continuously operating theatre.

Many Michiganders have heard of the “Edmund Fitzgerald,” an American Great Lakes freighter, and its doomed voyage on Lake Superior. The massive freighter sunk during a storm on Nov. 10, 1975, and to this day she is the largest ship to have ever sunk on the Great Lakes.

Even more well-known than the ship itself may be Gordon Lightfoot’s tribute song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Even more well-known than the ship itself may be Gordon Lightfoot’s tribute song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The sinking, which took the lives of all 29 crew members, inspired the song. In turn, song inspired Dietz to write his work of fiction based on the incident.

“Though facts are present, the play is more about the many and varied responses we have to disaster,” says Dewey.

Interestingly, according to a recent director spotlight on the Bay City Players website, Dewey has vivid memories of this historic event that she was actually tied to: “Liz Dewey was a student in 1975 at Lake Superior State University when she walked into the student newspaper office and learned the 729-foot ship had sunk, with all 29 lives on board lost in Lake Superior. Liz wrote the story for the student newspaper “The Compass…” reports Barb Handley-Miller.

Operations Administrator Jessica Lowe adds, “The tragedy is told in story and song through the characters involved ­– the captain, the crew, the widows, the owners. [It] is a compelling inquiry into questions still unanswered today.” 

Fifteen locals will serve as actors, singers, and musicians in the upcoming play and range in age between their 20s and 60s. Seven men and two women serve as actors, and a band made up of three singers and three musicians are on stage for the duration of the play. Dewey says, “The nine actors all play multiple roles as crew of both the “Fitz” and the “Arthur M. Anderson”, family members, investigators, and ordinary people interested in the story.” The Anderson was the last ship to have contact with the “Edmund Fitzgerald” and the first rescue ship on the scene.

Adding to the historical appeal, Lowe says the Players will collaborate with the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society (SRMHS) to create a historical lobby display that will share information about this wreck as well as other Michigan-related shipwrecks. Patrons will be able to explore the exhibit and deepen their knowledge on shipwrecks of the Great Lakes. The historical society has also graciously allowed the cast and crew to use an authentic recovered bell from a shipwreck on stage during the show.

Local interest in the event will hopefully draw people to come see what the play has to offer.

“Bay City has a long history as a shipbuilding town,” explains Dewey, “and the whole region has been involved in Great Lakes shipping for 200 years. People here are interested in local history, and the mystery of the “Edmund Fitzgerald” still has a hold on us 46 years later.”

After months of closure and heavy restrictions, The Bay City Players will be welcoming viewers to view the show indoors with only minor precautions. Patrons will be required to wear a mask indoors (with some exceptions) and to leave two seats between parties for social distancing.

Shows are slated for Nov. 5-7 and 12-14, and would be appropriate for older children, teens, and adults. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, plus applicable fees. Tickets can be purchased now on the Bay City Players website or by calling the box office at (989) 893-5555.

The show aims not to leave a dry eye in the audience, and Lowe adds, “ “Ten Novemberwill provide a loving, heartfelt evening to all Michiganders.”