Ragtime does not end particularly happily. Coalhouse is killed, Father is shunted off to the side and also killed so that Mother can act upon her adulterous feelings towards Tateh, and white society still distrusts black people. Audiences often forget just how bad things end up for everyone except the one in a million, wealthy couple and gleefully coo over Coalhouse the third.
Luckily, though each show ended this way, the course of our run had everyone in much higher spirits. Backstage was a controlled party; the dressing rooms were always responsibly raucous, the green room was packed and light hearted, and everyone in the wings was excitedly preparing to walk onstage. The change that would come over some as they walked out from behind the curtain and into the lights was instantaneous and always amusing.
I do hope that the audience did not regularly notice us scrambling to tuck in our shirts and straighten our hats. Even so, just making those kinds of mistakes often could dictate how we perceived the audience perceiving us, and that could affect the rest of the show. Personally, stumbling over a line in the opening number would make me much more likely to err again, as I worried that the audience already had a poor view of my performance. The difference between generous applause and silence, or between hearty laughter and a few chuckles, could make a world of difference in the performance from that moment on; performances that started off stronger with the audience could carrier themselves further. Although Ragtime doesn’t call for audience participation, like all live theater the quality of performance did not rest solely on the shoulders of the cast and crew. Energy was shared between the performers and the audience, for better or worse. When both groups were down, as on matinees, the shows just weren’t as lively, or as perfect. On the other hand, when everyone was fresh and excited—opening night, for example—the show seemed fresher and livelier itself.
But altogether, regardless of whatever effect the audience may have had on us, I feel that Ragtime was likely the best production with which I’ve ever been affiliated—I was surrounded by people with whom I’m proud to say I have worked.
I spent approximately 6 hours tabling, including hours spend covering for those who did not show up. I also worked through the entirety of strike, roughly 4 and a half hours.