‘Camp Delaware’ set to debut next week


Next Saturday, a group of performers will debut “Camp Delaware: An Historical Musical,” which showcases the history of Delaware’s training camp for Black soldiers during the Civil War.

The show was created by Francine and Mark Butler, who said the show features original music inspired by letters written by soldiers in the camp at the time. The show has been in production since November, and rehearsals have been taking place since January to prepare for the show’s debut on Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Ohio Wesleyan University Chappelear Drama Center, located at 46 Rowland Ave., Delaware.

“History wrote the story, we’re retelling it,” said Francine Butler, who added she’s not from Delaware originally but was fascinated by the story of Camp Delaware when she moved here.

“I was so excited when I learned some local history,” Francine Butler said. “When I learned about the connection between the men who trained here and the (54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment) … and how pivotal it was to the history of the country.”

Butler said she hopes the county will be proud of its history after seeing the show.

“If we tell the story right, Delaware County should get an immense boost of pride,” she said. “You pass the marker every day. You pass the plaque every day, but now you’ll look at it with awareness and connection. History changed because of what happened here.”

Tickets for the show are available at https://www.communityartsnetworkoh.org/.

“It’s a story that needs to be told,” said Mark Butler, who added he’s lived in Delaware for 20 years and only learned about Camp Delaware recently.

“(There’s) significant history of Blacks in the county, and it needs to be told,” Mark Butler said. “We’re going to do the best we can do to retell the story. Some folks, Black and white, never heard about Camp Delaware. It’s not just a Delaware story, it’s our nation’s story. It’s not just a Black person’s story, it’s a community’s story.”

To put the show together, the Butlers worked with musicians Christopher Gherman, Lois Gonzales, Dylan Horn, Scott Lee, and Anne Gadd, better known by her stage name Imber Solis, to create songs based on and inspired by the stories of the camp’s soldiers.

“(Camp Delaware) was fascinating to me and I said, ‘Yeah, we can write something about that,’” said Lee, who plays piano in the show. “We learned a lot about (the history of the camp). It’s been a fascinating journey. We were just writing songs, nameless, faceless, but when we came together, we’re forging longer-term music relationships, too.”

Gherman has collaborated with the Butlers in the past and said he enjoyed working on the production and “supporting the untold story of Delaware’s Black history.”

“It’s a nice opportunity to show (that history),” Gherman, a trumpet player, said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve performed on the trumpet, so it has been a nice, easy way to get my feet wet and play again.”

Horn, a guitar player in the show, said he’s happy to be part of the production.

“If I can do some good for the community, it’s worth it,” Horn said. “(The show can) shed a little light on a lesser known piece of the town everyone seems to overlook. Everybody has seen the plaque, but nobody knows what it means.”

Gadd said she and the other musicians were “captured by the importance of the message and history.”

“I grew up in Delaware and had never heard it,” said Gadd, who added she enjoyed collaborating with the Butlers and the other musicians to write the show’s music.

“I’ve never had somebody else perform a song I’ve written before. It’s so gratifying,” Gadd said. “It’s very fulfilling.”

Justin Smith plays a military officer in Camp Delaware and said it’s his first acting experience.

“Mark recruited me to play a small part,” Smith said. “I didn’t know I would enjoy this. It’s my first time doing theater. I’m trying to get used to acting and committing to the role.”

Franklin Moore, who plays a chaplain in the show, and he was recruited to play the part by Mark Butler because the role wouldn’t be much of a stretch for him since since he served as a medical corpsman during the Vietnam War.

“He said, ‘Just be yourself,’” Moore said. “I lead devotions, and I’ve done funerals. … I’ve been doing it for 60 some years.”

Moore said his experience in the Army made it easy to relate to the story of the soldiers in Camp Delaware.

“The same hazards are there,” Moore said. “I think it’s going to be a tremendous success. I’m the least talented person here. I’m not that talented, but I let the Lord use me.”

To help prepare the performers playing soldiers in the show, Francine Butler asked veteran theater director and Civil War reenactor Greg Patterson for his help and expertise.

“I’ve been a Civil War reenactor since 1980,” Patterson said. “I have a lot of Union uniforms and accoutrements. Francine asked me to come help the soldiers with their drill. … It appeals to the history teacher interest in me. It’s a show that combines not only the arts but local history.”

Francine Butler said the production of the show has highlighted “how gracious” members of the community are with their time and resources.

“Everywhere there seemed to be an impediment but a door swung open. It was really miraculous,” she said.

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903.

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