The end of our production of Ragtime also signifies the end of my theater career at Duke. Coming to Duke my freshman year, I was not a theater person, let alone a musical theater person. But somehow, here I am, 10 shows later, talking about what I’ve learned from the whole process. Ragtime has been a show that truly challenged me as a performer. In the realm of music, I strived with my fellow company members to produce a sound that was not only tonally correct, but also mature and authentic. The challenge of playing multiple roles made me work to develop each character’s story in relation to my own personal experience.
Perhaps the most surprising change for me was the presence of an audience. Seeing people out there, paying attention (or sometimes, surprisingly, not) to our show made me realize what Jeff had been saying all along about our roles as storytellers. Before opening night, I understood what he was saying on a very shallow level – “Ok, I get it – we’re telling a story through a musical to the audience. Gotcha.” But with the audience sitting there, ready to receive what we were going to give them, I got it. This was about theater being more than just a nice performance that the audience enjoys; it was about provoking personal change through the power of theater. I felt this intense desire to share the history and passions of this narrative with the audience, and used this as fuel for my portrayals of each role.
And then, strike came. How fitting that my 10th and final strike would also be the most intensive. Seeing the set that became a part of our daily routine go down and be thrown into a dumpster was bittersweet for me, but it was also cathartic in a way. I thought back to the hours I spent on this production: trying to sew hems onto skirts (and failing miserably), helping with wood, and standing in for light cueing all were steps that made “our story” able to be told. It occurred to me during strike, as I watched the same professionals that designed, cued, and built every part of this production tear it down, that everyone involved in the production had been storytellers. Some of us told the story through acting, some of us through music, some of us through design, or backstage work, or whatever else, but we all told the story of Ragtime together.