Ragtime without Race

jagfkb
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Ragtime without Race#1
Posted: 7/16/09 at 5:44pm
Okay, I'm in charge of my school's drama departments as of right now (Our previous director quit, so it's up to a board of students and parent volunteers now) and one musical which keeps coming up is Ragtime. Now, as much as I love Ragtime, and believe some students could fit rather well into it, our drama program suffers from a lack of diversity. Aside from a very few kids of Asian or Hispanic descent, we have mainly caucasian students. As the appointed director, I had a concept of Ragtime being a vaudeville show with the various scenes being various acts (Fitting Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini, and even Henry Ford into the story well) and using either the idea of blackface to create the African American characters, or by using puppets and masks. I know Minstrel today is considerred rather controversial, it would make sense in the context of the concept and time period, like Cabaret using swastikas. I also thought of puppets or masks, which would be used by each actor to portray one or more characters, thereby throwing race to the wind. Obviously this is not a show which works well in color-blind casting, and could become downright inappropriate at times, but it seems right now the most popular choice amongst the parents, students, even the faculty and as the director, I'm trying to find a way around such a barrier as race.
Updated On: 7/16/09 at 05:44 PM
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Mr Roxy
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re: Ragtime without Race#2
Posted: 7/16/09 at 5:50pm
If they (most of the cast) can do Mary Stuart in modern clothes & her in period pieces,you can get away with anything.

Put a flyer in the program explaining the various african american characters & state that while the actors are not african americans we should always go for color blind casting. If your actors are really good,so much the better . Remind them this is the theater
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Fosse76
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re: Ragtime without Race#2
Posted: 7/16/09 at 5:52pm
Are you out of your mind? Blackface wasn't all that acceptable when it was the norm, and to even suggest it is repulsive. I don't know how you can do Ragtime without a racially diverse cast when the whole show is about race and tolerance.
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somethingwicked
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re: Ragtime without Race#3
Posted: 7/16/09 at 5:54pm
For a show like RAGTIME, there is no way "around" race when it is both an integral element of the story and central to the show's theme.

To try and do the show in blackface or with puppets is extremely offensive.

Musical Theater International, who licenses the show, will not allow such a radical change and thus will not issue you the rights (and it would be your obligation to inform them of your plans since it would inevitably involve altering the copywritten material, which they'd have to give you special permission to do.)

I understand your frustration in terms of show availability with an ethnically limited population, but trying to work ridiculous "concepts" into shows your cast doesn't allow for isn't the answer.
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Updated On: 7/17/09 at 05:54 PM
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re: Ragtime without Race#4
Posted: 7/16/09 at 5:56pm
I'd have to think the rights might be hard to get and/or too expensive due to the upcoming revival.
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Jordan Catalano
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re: Ragtime without Race#5
Posted: 7/16/09 at 6:02pm
You guys had better be careful. A few people on this board will rip you a new one for even suggesting that color blind casting wouldn't work.

Oh, but wait. This is "reverse color blind casting" so maybe it's ok with them to not be in favor of it...
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re: Ragtime without Race#6
Posted: 7/16/09 at 6:06pm
You know, one show that has race as an issue but can be omitted is All Shook Up. If I'm not mistaken there is an alternate script which has Lorraine and her mother as being from "the other side of the tracks" rather than African-American. Your biggest problem would, probably, be finding someone who can hit the notes in "There's Always Me".
"All our dreams can come true -- if we have the courage to pursue them." -- Walt Disney We must have different Gods. My God said "do to others what you would have them do to you". Your God seems to have said "My Way or the Highway".
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re: Ragtime without Race#7
Posted: 7/16/09 at 6:08pm
This post is a joke, right?

I'm all for color-blind casting, but in this case, the race of the characters is an essential component of the story. The entire show is predicated around the relationships of 3 ethnic groups at the turn of the century- the WASPs, the Jewish immigrants, and the African-Americans. If you don't have diversity to cast all three groups appropriately, find another show.
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re: Ragtime without Race#8
Posted: 7/16/09 at 7:04pm
ANNIE might be fun!
PEACE.
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re: Ragtime without Race#9
Posted: 7/16/09 at 7:12pm
Good luck with this. People will probably be offended.
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re: Ragtime without Race#10
Posted: 7/16/09 at 7:36pm
Blackface is HIGHLY offensive. Truly.

Additionally, you really cannot DO a show about race when you have no diversity under MOST circumstances. (My school is in the same boat, there are MANY shows we cannot produce because of how darn lily white we are.)

Are there shows that address inequality that can be done with a mostly/all white cast? Sure. Once on This Island is lovely. While it was written to be the rich, white land owners vs the poor black natives.....there is no reference to being black so it's easy to just have it be the wealthy vs the poor, or even the white vs islanders.

I know you are TRYING to make this work, but Ragtime won't. Additionally, this is an extremely difficult show to produce and I wouldn't suggest there are too many HS kids that are truly adept to handle it.

If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
jagfkb
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re: Ragtime without Race#11
Posted: 7/16/09 at 8:11pm
Okay, you've all answered my question: Ragtime won't work without the proper casting. No need to continue on...
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re: Ragtime without Race#12
Posted: 7/16/09 at 8:25pm
I can't believe that was even a question.
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orangeskittles
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re: Ragtime without Race#13
Posted: 7/16/09 at 9:32pm
I can't believe faculty and parents suggested using blackface. What the hell are they teaching their kids?
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re: Ragtime without Race#14
Posted: 7/16/09 at 9:35pm
He never said that any adult was backing his ideas....he said these were HIS thoughts about making the show a feasibility. And its a board of STUDENTS and Parents -- none that might have ANY clue to the subject at hand.
If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
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re: Ragtime without Race#15
Posted: 7/16/09 at 10:56pm
But unless you're doing a musical about Al Jolson, why would blackface ever occur to someone as acceptable?
"This thread reads like a series of White House memos." — Mister Matt
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orangeskittles
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re: Ragtime without Race#16
Posted: 7/16/09 at 11:02pm
Sorry, I misunderstood. I'm still bothered that a show which is obviously not appropriate for the student body is the popular choice amongst parents and faculty.
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re: Ragtime without Race#17
Posted: 7/16/09 at 11:10pm
Can't wait to hear the "concepts" for UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
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re: Ragtime without Race#18
Posted: 7/16/09 at 11:25pm
Well, I was going to write about this high school I know of that did Ragtime with an almost completely white cast.... however, seeing as this discussion has gone somewhat "downhill," I should probably quit while I'm ahead.
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re: Ragtime without Race#19
Posted: 7/17/09 at 12:45am
I find it highly offensive that you would consider something like this considering the historical refrences in the show and being in High school If MTI even kne of this concept they wouldn't allow it.
now if it would be a different story if you were puting on the king and I. but black facing actors is a totaly different story.
what are some other suggestions? heres some.

Kiss Me Kate (color Blind Casting can work for this show)
Crazy For you
Oklahoma
Fiddler on the roof
south Pacific!
Guys and Dolls
Bye Bye Birdie
Hello DollY
My fair Lady!
Updated On: 7/17/09 at 12:45 AM
Byron Abens
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re: Ragtime without Race#20
Posted: 7/17/09 at 12:50am
I don't think, in this day and age, that doing "yellow face" and false eyelids so a bunch of white kids can do The King and I should be any more acceptable than black face.
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re: Ragtime without Race#21
Posted: 7/17/09 at 12:55am
That's what I was thinking, as well.
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re: Ragtime without Race#22
Posted: 7/17/09 at 1:00am
I find it as a different Matter. when I did the show we didn't use yellow face make up. we used cake face make up.
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re: Ragtime without Race#23
Posted: 7/17/09 at 1:32am
now if it would be a different story if you were puting on the king and I. but black facing actors is a totaly different story.

I find this offensive and highly objectionable.

Not just because I'm Asian.
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re: Ragtime without Race#24
Posted: 7/17/09 at 1:56am
Now, insults aside, I think that this is a good springboard for the discussion of doing a show you like vs. the right show for your school/community theatre/whatever.

On the subject of color-blind casting: I think that shows should be cast in a colorblind fashion if race isn't really a central theme in the show. But for many popular musicals (Hairspray, Ragtime, South Pacific, etc.) race is a central theme, and colorblind casting could serve to confuse and/or offend the audience.

Unfortunately Jagfkb, Ragtime does not seem to be a reasonable option, and yo should look into other shows that could better highlight the strengths of your group, even if they might not be as popular.