One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed during Ragtime rehearsal is the readiness of the cast to be mixed between the three main populations we comprise (Harlem, New Rochelle, immigrants). At the end of Act One when Sarah is killed, Evelyn Nesbit is next to Tateh, who is not far from the choir of Harlem. We all jokingly point out how exciting it is to be intermingled, but the inherent segregation in the show is notable. When we in fact are mixed, it is to make a stark to comparison to the racially separated construct that pervades most of the piece. I love the set (or at least how I imagine it will look) for its literal representation of higher and lower class, of power and influence. If only people who looked and lived the same were “united” for or against some force, it would imply little to no struggle; placing different people next to one another, truly unified, is the triumph.
In our era, individuality is celebrated. Often when friends talk about their diverse backgrounds, I make the joke that my only diversity is that I’m from both Western and Eastern Europe. I’m proud of who I am and where I come from, but often wish (albeit selfishly) that there were a month or a club or a cultural event associated with my heritage. In my French class, we discussed how America has always celebrated independence (we are united STATES) and how in Europe, being different is rude, not accepting, ungrateful.
The show highlights the direct impact our appearances, possible accents, style, and general perspective have on how others view us, and how others physically position themselves around us, as Jeff and Barbara’s blocking work portrays. Though in theory we are an integrated society, we are not. The word “integration” often implies race, but I think that economic status separates us just as much, if not more. In a predominantly upper middle class student body, it is difficult to remember just how many types of people there are, even here. We celebrate individuality, yet are homogeneous to a fault. Being in this show has caused me to reexamine my body language and my gut reactions to people who are not from where I am, who did not live their first 18 years as I have. I hope that as the show progresses, the cast and crew will unify in learning the influence the show can have on our environment here at Duke, and on our day to day lives.