From our classroom discussions, we have come to realize that one of the most important ways to make this show a success is to first each personally understand the story that we are attempting to translate to the audience. Transforming a book into a musical undoubtedly involves losing some details from the original. For example, in the musical, there is a definite character arc for Mother, Tateh, and Coalhouse but none for Evelyn Nesbitt, who matures and grows throughout the E.L. Doctorow classic. Therefore, each character must bring to the table personal knowledge of who they are and where they come from.
For those in the ensemble, we are given free rein to determine our names, our families, and our stories. We must each create our own story to convey to the audience to make the performance as rich and diverse as possible. As a Jewish immigrant, one of my most valuable experiences thus far in character building has been the opportunity to meet with Rabbi Jeremy. Over our meal at the Freeman Center, Rabbi Jeremy shared with us knowledge of the Jewish tradition, both then and now. I came to appreciate the hardship that one faced as an immigrant Jewish person, the stereotypes and the constant uphill battle. Just as we learned that being an actor was considered below even a streetwalker, the Jewish people were seen as lower class and had definite battles to overcome in the search for their rights as new American citizens.
Learning about the struggles, I came to realize that my character has a thick shell, and for good reason. However, she is not afraid to do battle with this new land in order to scrape out a living. Unlike Tateh, she did not come to America expecting to “soon be eating apple pie off a china plate;” my character expects to work hard but also, in the end, ultimately believes a brighter future is in store. My role in Ragtime has provided for me the opportunity to learn and appreciate a culture which I was previously not as well-informed on, and I look forward to where my cultural explorations will lead me by the end of this production.