Ben Butler reviews to date

Here are the reviews for Ben Butler to date:

Photo by Michael Brunk /

“I highly recommend seeing this story about two men from completely different walks of

life, who find a similarity between each other in a world where neither has to consider the other.”

Burien Culture Hub HERE

“Ben Butler is a timely play as we navigate, on a local and national level, the idea of us vs. them. We are, as it turns out, all part of the human race. We are all a part of the same community, on both a local and national level.

The BAT production of Ben Butler is wonderfully done. It both provokes thought and thoroughly entertains. The talent is top notch and is well worth taking the time to enjoy!”


Photo by Michael Brunk /

B-town Blog HERE

“The main characters are dynamic and complex – and the perfect pair to take viewers on a thoughtful journey, using word play and comedy to open the door for discussion of race and politics in the U.S.

The timing of this production is particularly poignant for Burien – and the rest of the country – telling a story that explores the plight of those seeking refuge and sanctuary – and for a look at the ability to be open-minded and forward thinking.”

Highline Times / Westside Seattle HERE

Get your TICKETS HERE! This is not a show to miss!!!

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The genius of Cyndi

Cyndi is BAT’s props goddess on Ben Butler. Here is just one example of the detail Cyndi

Fireplace on Ben Butler set

puts into her work.

On stage, there is a fireplace and “gas” lamps on either side of the chimney. The play takes place on May 23-24, 1861, the very early days of the Civil War.

On the mantle of the fireplace there are matches, as one might expect in real life, but a detail that might be missed on stage. But then, here is the genius that is Cyndi, next to the matches there is an ashtray. In the ashtray, there are used matches. (Amazing.)

While it highly unlikely anyone in the audience will see these burnt matches, they are there for the actors,

Used matches in the ash tray

to help keep them present in Ben Butler’s office on a May day in 1861.

This is the kind of work BAT patrons have come to expect, and the kind of work BAT, with the help of its creative team, including Cyndi, routinely produce.

Don’t miss Ben Butler – TICKETS.

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Sitting in an empty theater

BAT is volunteer driven. So when we are here we are typically doing something. It is rare that I get to sit in our empty theater.

BAT has just 94 seats, and those seats move. So even on the rare time I am at the theater

Tech rehearsal for Ben Butler, sans costumes.
Photo by Craig Orsinger

waiting, I cannot just sit in the seats and look at a set.

Today, I got that chance. I am sitting in the top row looking out at the Ben Butler set. It is all but done, as we head toward opening night on September 29th. TICKETS

Looking at another great set, I have a chance to pause and think about how far BAT has come. We are in a renascence.

Over the last 10 years or so, BAT has stepped up its game many times. Just look at these pictures. This season is a great example, three Northwest premieres, and all four shows will hold you spellbound and make you laugh. An amazing combination. Plus, BAT is drawing the cream of actors, and our creative team is above outstanding.

But what makes just sitting in an empty theater so special is that the space is hallow. Theater, they say, is the second oldest profession. I think it is likely the first.

When the house lights go down, you are taken to places beyond yourself. You see other worlds, through other eyes. You become one with something that is not just you.

Not all theater should make you think. But if you are not touched somehow, that production has failed. To laugh, to cry, to escape, to wonder that is why there is theater.

As I sat in BAT’s empty theater, I was at peace. Part of something bigger than my life.

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So, what is tech week?

I just survived day one of tech week. So, what is tech week, and why is it sometimes called hell week?

First, when is tech week? For BAT it is the last week before a show opens. Ben Butler

Ben Butler stage during tech week.

opens on Friday, September 29, 2017. So, tech week started Saturday, September 23.

About 5 weeks before tech week the actors start rehearsing. They do what it takes to find their character, learn lines, and blocking. (That is a whole other blog post. In fact, BAT’s BALL has a number of books written just on the actors’ process.)

The creative team has also been working for a number of weeks: set design and building, light design and hang, prop design, building and securing, costume design, building and gathering, and sound, building, finding, writing, recording and editing have all been taking place. Hopefully, all of that is done, or nearly so, by the beginning of tech week. But there are many things that cannot be completed until the actors take the stage. Some things have to do with timing, distance, and personality quirks of the director and actors. Nevertheless, as much is done as possible before tech week. Continue reading

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BAT in the local press

What was the Highline Times is now the WestSide Seattle. This great local paper has been a mainstay in Burien for more years than I can remember. Before there was a BAT, there was the Highline Times. The paper has consistently reviewed BAT’s productions, letting the audience know what to expect before they come to the show.

So, it brought a smile to BAT when BAT was featured in this week’s edition:

Thanks to our old friend, for noticing us!

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Washington Territory in the Civil War – Ben Butler history 8 of 8

One region of the United States that never shares in the Civil War conversation is the

First Washington Territory Governor Isaac Stevens in Union Uniform

Pacific Northwest. Washington State was only a territory when war broke out in April of 1861. Despite three thousand miles distance and a small population, Washington Territory still had some Civil War experience.

Notable figures in the Civil War had at one time or another been in Washington. Ulysses S. Grant served for a time at Fort Vancouver in 1853. Philip Sheridan had fought in the Indian Wars of 1855-56 near Yakima. John C. Fremont once surveyed the boundaries of the territory. Governor Isaac Stevens joined the Union and died while leading his men in a charge at the Battle of Chantilly in Virginia on September 1st, 1862.

One future Confederate included the first U.S. Marshal of Washington Territory and second delegate to Congress, J. Patton Anderson, who would act as a delegate from Florida to the constitutional conventions of the Confederacy. Another was George Pickett who, before his failed charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, was captain in charge of Company D, 9th Infantry in the San Juan Islands during the “Pig War” of 1859. Before that, Pickett helped construct Fort Bellingham (today the city of Bellingham) in 1856 where his house still stands as the oldest wooden structure on its original site in Washington State.

During the war, federal troops stationed in Oregon, California, and Washington Territory were called to the defense of Washington, D.C. and other theaters of war, leaving western forts and outposts to be defended by volunteer forces. On October 18th, 1861, the U.S. War Department authorized Colonel Justus Steinberger to enlist a regiment of volunteers in the western region and appointed officers with the approval of the Washington Territory governor. The First Washington Territory Volunteer Infantry were trained to defend against potential conflicts with Native Americans and foreign invaders and was in service for the full course of the war but saw no action. The final volunteers of the regiment were finally mustered out of service in 1866.

In the mid-war years, Washington Territory was carved up. On March 3rd, 1863, by act of Congress, the Idaho Territory was formed, taking all of present day Idaho, Montana, and most of Wyoming with it, leaving only present-day Washington to be called the Washington Territory. Decades later, Washington was admitted to the Union as a state in 1889.

After the war, Washington Territory was witness to many more conflicts with Native Americans. Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at Forts Lawton and Wright. Some veterans of the Civil War came west and settled around the state. Today, a Grand Army of the Republic cemetery can be visited on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

By: Will Sullivan


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Lincoln’s Evolution on Slavery – Ben Butler history 7 of 8

Abraham Lincoln is remembered today as “The Great Emancipator.” Like many of his day,

President Abraham Lincoln in 1861

Lincoln’s own views on slavery were complex and even somewhat incompatible with our knowledge of the 16th president. This is an exploration of Honest Abe’s changing position on the fate of slavery in the United States.

In the 1840s, Lincoln’s own thoughts on slavery were mixed. He thought it immoral and was raised in a family without any slaves. As a member of the Whig, soon to be Republican Party, Lincoln believed that the extension of slavery westward would lessen the integrity of the nation and would only further divide North and South. By confining slavery to the states where it already existed, Lincoln and many others hoped it would die out eventually, or if it did expand westward, that it would grow so unprofitable that people would abandon it completely.

By 1858, Lincoln was running for an Illinois senate seat. The race would make two of the nation’s most skilled orators argue over the issue of slavery in seven events later to be known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Stephen Douglas believed in the expansion of slavery and the right to popular sovereignty in the U.S. territories to decide whether they would allow slavery or not. Lincoln believed in the elimination of slavery, but his position was not for total equality of the races. In Charleston, Illinois on September 18th, 1858, Lincoln did indeed state, “I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” Continue reading

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Contraband of War – Ben Butler history 6 of 8

Contraband slaves photographed in Virginia

About 900 fugitive slaves had made their way to Fort Monroe after news of the contraband declaration had spread. Men, women, and children sought refuge with the Union Army because they believed they would be freed. Those people would not be freed until 1863 and would still be used as property for the Union war effort against the southerners.

After General Butler left Fort Monroe, General John Ellis Wool, the oldest man to serve as a general in the Civil War, was named commander of the fortifications and the Department of Virginia. In His General Orders No. 34 (found here) dated November 1st, 1861, General Wool listed the payment due to contraband slaves that worked for the Union Army. Laborers were meant to be paid ten dollars a month but were too often actually paid much less.

Black soldiers, white officers and teachers in South Carolina

Mary S. Peake, a Virginia native, established her own school near the walls of Fort Monroe in September 1861. The school served as a model for others to be established in Union occupied territory during the rest of the war. The first attempts at Reconstruction were in Corinth, Mississippi during the Union occupation of 1862. Schools and homes for former slaves were erected on the plantation lands of their former masters.

By 1863, nearly 10,000 slaves had escaped to Washington, D.C. Those that reached the Union capital city found themselves unwanted and mistreated. Few contraband slaves found help outside of the Union army. Work was mostly available only in the army and navy. Cooking, cleaning, building and deconstructing were all parts of the contraband experience. It is estimated that around 40,000 former slaves had made it to Washington, D.C. by the end of the war in 1865. Continue reading

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Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862 – Ben Butler history 5 of 8

In direct response to General Benjamin Butler’s decision at Fort Monroe in May of 1861, Congress passed a law saying any property used expressly for armed insurrection against

4th U.S. Colored Infantry

the Federal government would be captured by Union forces to use as contraband of war. The law itself included the authorization of troops to confiscate slaves with little or no intention of returning them to their masters in the southern states. In terms of military strategy, the law helped the Union army gain a labor advantage over the southern rebel forces as slaves captured or fleeing to northern camps were then used for jobs such as cooking or clearing land for the army to march through or helping build up defenses just as they had when under the control of their southern masters.

The Second Confiscation Act went further than the first one had. Approved by Congress in July of 1862, the law said, “every person who shall hereafter commit the crime of treason against the United States, and shall be adjudged guilty thereof, shall suffer death, and all his slaves, if any, shall be declared and made free; or, at the discretion of the court, he shall be imprisoned for not less than five years and fined not less than ten thousand dollars, and all his slaves, if any, shall be declared and made free.” This was a huge shift in the tactics to be used by Congress and the Union Army. Prior to both Confiscation Acts, Lincoln had worked tirelessly to prevent any interference with slavery and keeping the cause of the war to that of preserving the Union. In fact, he doubted the very legality of the acts. He even went as far to provide a veto message for the record while still signing it into law to let his position known.

This second law said, very plainly, that those southern states in rebellion were treasonous and their slaves would be captured and freed. The limitation of this second law was that the charges of treason were expected to be decided in court. Since there weren’t any precedents set for treason charges, or the freeing of slaves, it wasn’t exactly something that could be easily done. In fact, few cases ever came before a judge. In addition, the death penalty was not specified as strictly necessary and was left up to the court’s discretion to decide the leniency of a sentence.

While both Confiscation Acts didn’t immediately change the strategy of the Union forces, they did provide sanctuary for escaped slaves coming into Union lines and sent a message to the Confederacy that indeed the war was becoming more about the future of slavery.


By: Will Sullivan


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Butler and the Fate of Contraband Slaves – Ben Butler history 4 of 8

Benjamin Butler and the Fate of Contraband Slaves

Benjamin Butler was the first person to declare escaped and captured slaves coming into Union lines contraband. This meant slaves, that were being used for the southern war

The famous encounter of Benjamin Butler and the three escaped slaves in May 1861

effort, were just as liable to seizure as horses, guns, food supplies or any other tool used by the Confederacy.

Benjamin Butler was the first person to declare escaped and captured slaves coming into Union lines contraband. This meant slaves, that were being used for the southern war effort, were just as liable to seizure as horses, guns, food supplies or any other tool used by the Confederacy.

When the Fort Monroe Decision occurred on May 24th, 1861, word spread quickly that slaves could be set free at the military outpost. Slaves came from all over Virginia to escape their southern masters, pleading for their freedom. Before he knew it, hundreds of slaves arrived at the fort. He wrote a letter dated May 27th, 1861 to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, in which he said, “I am in the utmost doubt what to do with this species of property. Up to this time I have had come within my lines men and women with their children–entire families–each family belonging to the same owner. I have therefore determined to employ, as I can do very profitably, the able-bodied persons in the party, issuing proper food for the support of all, and charging against their services the expense of care and sustenance of the non- laborers, keeping a strict and accurate account as well of the services as of the expenditure having the worth of the services and the cost of the expenditure determined by a board of Survey hereafter to be detailed.” (A transcription of the full dispatch may be found HERE.) Continue reading

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