As a member of the pit orchestra, I never got the chance to see our audiences – I could only gauge their reception through the sounds of laughter and applause – but nevertheless, playing for such a huge audience was an interesting and exciting experience. I’ll admit that it was pretty scary at first, but I’m glad that I learned to ignore Kevin’s constant disapproving head shakes (haha just kidding) and proud to say that volume control knob on my keyboard slowly crept up with each performance. One thing I particularly enjoyed was listening to different audiences laugh at different things through the string of all of our performances – I was always left wondering if the antics of our cast were especially funny or if our audiences differed in senses of humor each performance. Either way, judging by the reception of the show, I’m glad that we successfully entertained the Duke and Durham community night after night.
Yet like all great musicals, Ragtime serves not only to entertain its audiences, but to also deliver a message. This was apparent to me at the beginning of the production, but it wasn’t until the Saturday before closing night that the message really hit home and really resonated with me. After a semester of Ragtime, it was the words of producer Manny Azenberg that really made me understand why I felt such a deep connection with the music I was playing. Ragtime, as Manny simply put it, is a musical about truths. These are truths about our nation’s past that continue to permeate through the present, truths about human nature and our society, and ultimately, truths that are ugly yet also unavoidable. Ragtime brings up truths that need to be addressed now more than ever, but these are unfortunate truths that – no matter how much we hate them – cannot be changed by a single person, the cast of a musical, or a single college campus. After such an exhilarating experience, it’s depressing to think about – but these are truths that I think that each and every one of us will take to heart and hopefully struggle to change, no matter how futile our prospects seem.
Father remarks at the beginning of Ragtime that, “the world will stay the same – the Earth won’t spin off its axis in a year,” but in the semester that I’ve been involved with Ragtime, my world has changed, if only a little bit. This unforgettable experience has shaped my life just like other experiences past have and like future ones will continue to do. I’m guess I’m just grateful that I had a chance to help make this wonderful production happen.
-Daniel Li
non-production hours: orchestra rehearsal, strike (4 hours), tabling (3 hours)