Musical theater has been a part of my life since I was quite young, but Ragtime has so far been – and I expect will continue to be – a very different experience from any I have had in the past. Performing is my first love, but in high school I also had the opportunity to choreograph and direct. Stage managing, though, is a field in which I truly have no experience. It is a completely foreign feeling to me that we have been in rehearsals for more or less a month now and I have seen very little of the show itself. What I have experienced so far in this process is simply the pieces.
While reading Doctorow’s novel Ragtime over winter break, I was struck by the way in which he chose to tell the story. I felt as though I got to know the characters one by one, and then I gradually saw their stories intertwine. Up to this point, I have been experiencing the show in a very similar way. Unlike when I am part of the cast of the show, I am not very familiar with the characters, the plot, and especially the score of Ragtime. I was given my first glimpse of these things during the Act 1 and Act 2 read-throughs. Since then, though, I’ve had a very limited view of how the performance is progressing. I’ve seen the immigrant boat pull up to Ellis Island; I’ve seen the people in Harlem let loose as Coalhouse plays “Gettin’ Ready Rag.” I’ve also watched some of the cast take over the Duke campus in phenomenal costumes during a photo shoot, and I’ve developed an understand of what the stage and set will look like after spending two hours on a Monday morning taping the stage of Page Auditorium.
Each of these facets on its own might have little significance. However, as the rehearsal process continues I have the chance to see how the pieces are going to be tied together. Just as Doctorow’s novel began with a narrow focus on each character and storyline and then expanded its view to the bigger picture, I am getting to experience how a musical gets put together layer by layer, story by story, piece by piece.