Throughout my years in theatre, I’ve participated in a variety of shows ranging from upbeat musicals to tragic dramas. I’ve played an uptight Salvation Army worker who falls in love with a gambler against her better judgment, a woman scorned by the man she loves until fairies intervene on a Midsummer Night, and a power-hungry nurse desperate for control over the asylum she runs. Some of these shows were purely fiction, others based on historical events. In addition, I’ve taken history classes and read about race relations in the late 19th and early 20th century; none of these experiences, however, prepared me for the eye-opening perspective I’ve gained from participating in Ragtime.
After the first few rehearsals, I quickly realized that no one can truly imagine the emotional impact associated with any event by merely reading about it. Courses have taught me about tensions between different classes and races in our society during the time period in which Ragtime takes place, and I approached the production as a fun way for me to increase my knowledge; I had no idea the emotional effect participating in certain scenes would cause. As a New Rochelle member in the opening scene, I look down upon the immigrants and Harlem members, pausing until they get out of my path when walking across the stage; treating both friends and new acquaintances in this manner felt indescribably strange. I couldn’t imagine actually feeling that these people deserved that sort of treatment, and that scene made me realize the pernicious effects these tensions wreaked on society more so than any textbook. The scene in Lawrence, MA had a similar effect; though I had read about the horrible working conditions and child abuse, watching a guard throw Tessa to the floor made the situation more real than I could’ve ever imagined. I can’t wait for my friends and family seeing the show to have the same realization, though their take-away will still not equal mine from actually participating in the scenes. I look forward to more experiences like the ones I mentioned above as rehearsals continue!!