Ragtime was certainly a stellar success. I think we all agree that we were a part of a performative product that we can be proud of. However, I want to question whether we should be equally proud of the process that got us there. This post is meant to be a specifically critical one. I do have good things to say about the production but I am going to focus on the negative because there is a lack of public critique by the cast and production team and because it is the negative which unfortunately colors my experience of Ragtime.
Firstly, I will remember the marketing. As I said during our final class, I was offended and disappointed with the Ragtime/Rage Time theme which the marketing team used. As Kyler said in our final class “Ragtime is not a party”. So, it seems entirely inappropriate to use such marketing techniques. It belittles the show and the efforts people put into making it happen. The marketing team was certainly successful in drawing in Duke students who don’t usually see Theater. But, if you have to give out Ragtime/Rage Time shot glasses and ask the principals to pose in costume at shooters to make that happen, then I think we need to reconsider why we are trying to draw in that audience. I don’t believe that it is just the directors and cast that need to bring the art to an artistic endeavor. Consideration of artistic content and quality should be a priority for all involved, including the producer and the marketing team.
Secondly, I will remember our attitude during rehearsals. It is hard and even near impossible to maintain focus and commitment for three hours in a row during a rehearsal with 40+ people on stage. However, this difficulty does not explain or justify our behavior during many of the rehearsals. We would just talk and talk and talk. The number of times we were asked to be quiet made me think I was back in middle school. I saw many phones on stage and I noticed some cast members were even texting while we were receiving instruction from our directors. I remember we were actually asked to not have our phones on stage during rehearsal. All this makes me wonder whether we were prioritizing socializing over attentive practice during our Ragtime rehearsals. Furthermore, during the process of bringing Ragtime to the stage I was shocked to hear people in the cast make comments which belittled and trivialized the efforts of the creative team. There was a general ‘I know better’ attitude amongst some cast-members which permeated the atmosphere of our rehearsals. I am not one to stifle critique, but I think there is a time, place and way to be critical. Making harsh, offhand or demeaning comments during rehearsal is arrogant, disrespectful and only serves to boost the ego. All of this along with the fact that we had an inebriated cast member one night indicates a deeply disrespectful and immature attitude within the cast.
Finally, I will remember that, for reasons still not entirely known to me, we used mics during the show which was directly against the wishes of the creative team. How exactly a small group of the cast were able to make our director change his mind is unknown to me. Either way, I know that it was not discussed within the cast as a whole. So, the presumptuous initiative of a few had repercussions for us all. I would have rather seen our principal singers’ words go unheard from lack of diaphragm support than have them undermine the creative vision of our directors.
Let this be a written record that I think (and I know I am not the only one) the process of Ragtime did not go smoothly, to say the least. And that it was lacking in respect, maturity and commitment from the cast. I encourage all who participated to reflect on their actions throughout the rehearsal process and ask themselves if they really deserved the professionalism we received from the Theater, Music and Dance departments.
Let us be proud of what we produced. But, if you ask me, I am ashamed of what it took to get us there.