After reading the Chronicle’s article on Ragtime, I was immediately struck by a comment of a freshman attendee: “At the end of the beginning number when you see forty people on stage in this huge surrounding you realize, ‘Oh, this is kind of a big deal.” A Big Deal indeed.
Though I laugh at the comment now, that’s a little bit how I felt when first coming abroad this production. I knew it was going to be a great show – I can scarcely remember a time I was disappointed by Hoof ‘n Horn. I did not know, however, that this was the biggest show the department had ever done. That the pit would house a live orchestra. That my friend, and dance prodigy Monica Hogan, would be choreographing the dance sequences. I had not idea that there would be a marketing person, let alone a whole team. I had no concept of the level of talent I would be witnessing from such a large cast. Joke’s on me.
Ragtime is a big deal for all of those reasons, but it is an even bigger deal because of what it teaches us. Did it teach us that we’ve “come a long way” in America since the days of blind and ignorant racism, judgment, and police brutality? I don’t think so. More likely, it teaches that for the enormous strides we have made, we have such a longer way to go towards respecting each other on a macro scale. If we don’t have books and shows like Ragtime to remind us of how horrible we’ve been to one another in the past, we cannot fix what ails us now.
Ragtime also teaches us that despite our hate and strain, we all have an enormous capacity to love each other. Mother takes in a child that’s not hers, marries a man not of her own religion or background, and gives shelter to a woman shamed by society. She chooses to love when looking the other way is easier. Tata and Mother’s children play together with no thought as to their ethnicity or station. They represent the uncorrupted capacity in all of us to accept and care for the person beside us. We’ve all helped bring that message to Duke and our community. That’s a kind of a big deal.