Working on a more technical aspect of Ragtime I’ve often found myself fairly detached from the plot and characters in the show. Its my job to know who uses what when, to find where I can get it, to sort through dusty closets in search of hidden 1900’s era treasures. I’ve had some experience with theater in the past working on all different aspects, everything from acting to lights to costumes and props and looking back I’ve found myself guilty of something we discussed in class a couple weeks ago – I had always viewed musicals as merely a form of entertainment and nothing more. It is so easy to get bogged down in keeping track of all the different little things, light cues, props, costumes, lines, whatever it may be, that I had never really had the chance to step back and think about how much more there is to each and every detail of a show. That is, until now.
During a (very productive) meeting with Jeff and Torry a little while ago we were going through the props one by one, figuring out details, numbers, sources and all sorts of other information. We came to an item on the props list that to me had seemed fairly insignificant, a small brush or comb for Tateh to comb his little girl’s hair with, but a comment Jeff made really struck me. He explained how Tateh and his daughter have just come over to America from Latvia, they have left their entire lives and everything they ever knew behind them only bringing those few belongings that were important enough to keep with them, and this comb was one of them. Even though something like a comb to keep his daughters hair brushed would seem insignificant to many it was important enough to Tateh for him to bring it with them to their new life in America.
After that revelation each prop was no longer just an item to check off a list but rather an essential portion of a character or a building block of the world we are trying to create. And in creating this world and these characters through all the different technical and theatrical aspects of a show we are reaching our real goal – connecting with the audience on a much deeper level than just trying to entertain them. I want the audience to walk out of Ragtime not only marveling at the talent of everyone in the show, but to also have the same revelation I did when talking about the comb. I want them to think about what Ragtime represents, what it means and I hope I can play my part in making that happen.
Mallory Ellingson, Props Master