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.
I’m thankful for your frank criticisms about the show. Although a lot of people tried to be optimistic and positive about the show, some things need to be addressed in an open and honest manner. I agree with you that the marketing could have used some more sincerity to the musical and the subject matter it is trying to deal with. The flyers of photos taken in Shooters II and shot glasses with the Ragtime logo on it drastically misrepresented the content and intentions of our show.
I also did not appreciate some of our attitudes during rehearsals. What I would like to add to the criticism is our attitudes toward the director and choreographer. I have heard a lot of harsh complaints on them backstage, and I think it is not the best attitude as performers to have disrespectful opinions about the director and choreographer. Rather, it would have been more constructive to communicate openly with them if we had issues.
I agree with some of your criticisms, Michael. Personally, I didn’t care for the marketing campaign. It was undignified and unrelated to the work we were doing on stage. No matter the success it can bring, I don’t think we should stoop to what is basically shock advertising for serious theater. However, I know what it’s like to perform to a house that is smaller than the cast. There must be a middle ground where we can attract Duke students without this kind of marketing.
That said, I have to largely disagree with the rest of your post. Over the course of a 3 hour rehearsal, we get antsy and sometimes bored. When we get bored, we get social. I have never been in a cast that I would characterize as “quiet”. I think this is more human nature than lack of respect.
As for criticism of the creative team within the cast, we are entitled to our private opinions. Perhaps the cast wasn’t always happy with choices that were made, but we didn’t disobey direction or disrespect the creative team. I have been in casts where griping has been much worse, and though it can be upsetting to other cast members, you can’t stop people from being down on the show in the rough part of the process, which always comes.
I tried my best during the process to not weigh in on the mic question, but now I’ll give my opinion. I didn’t count the number of pieces in the pit, but I know that it was the biggest orchestra I’ve performed with in a while. I don’t know the square footage, but I know Reynolds is the biggest theater I’ve ever performed in. By the end of the run, my voice was exhausted, and I would be surprised if the other principles would say differently. I just simply don’t think it would have been practical to not use mics, and I strongly disagree with you when you say that you’d rather have the principals go unheard. On top of that, I think that this production was ambitious enough without the principles having to be trained to project. We had 3 months, and we all saw how much of that time we had to spare.
I suppose that jives with my opinion that the cast has a right to its opinions. As long as we acknowledge that we are not in charge and discuss our opinions in an appropriate manner, I see nothing wrong with discussing the creative decisions in the show.
Regarding mics and “disrespect”
All I know is that one of the consistant complaints I received at the end of the show was, “i couldn’t understand the people in the opening without mics.” I also heard “the music was too loud to hear [insert name]” even though we had mics. The decision by the creative team was just that: a creative decision. It was impractical for the talent and material we had to work with.
While many of your critiques are valid, I think it is important that you recognize the value of your cast mates opinions. Though we may not have pursued the most constructive course of action by expressing our complaints aloud, we still have rights to the things we think. Especially when our open and constructive communication with the creative team was ignored multiple times (regarding mics in particular).
It is also good to note that in fact many of the cast, myself included, have experience producing musicals. With that experience comes a certain degree of expectation and expertise that was frequently disregarded. For example, I watched several times in rehearsal as Ruthie’s well-formed and frequently correct opinions were openly stepped on by members of the creative team. I also know some of Nate’s concerns as a producer were repeatedly ignored. As for disrespect I know several other people who felt like they were being treated like children when there concerns were gently swept under the rug and ignored. If that isn’t disrespect, I don’t know what is. I do not think these things were intentional, but it was quite clear to me during the process that our opinions were not as valued as perhaps they should have been. I think it was entirely reasonable that we expressed our opinions aloud to each other considering there were few other open paths for communication.
We weren’t a perfect cast. We were disrespectful, and yes some of it was rude and unecessary. But in my opinion, some of it was justified and that shouldn’t be disregarded.