I have performed in more theatrical productions in my hometown than I can count over the past eight years, but the one show that had the greatest impact on me was, without a doubt, the musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime,” in which I played Edgar (also known as the Little Boy). The powerful story, which illustrates the changing ideals of the three main ethnic factions of American society at the turn of the century, is told through the eyes of my unknowingly clairvoyant character.
Throughout the show, he observes the unfolding and intertwining of the three core plotlines. They effectively and accurately depict the struggles faced by whites, blacks, and immigrants in a turbulent time in our history and bring to light a host of issues that remain prominent today; namely, the conflict between traditional values and changing society, equal rights, and the overcoming of prejudices.
But regardless of the particular themes that I pulled from the show, my proximity to these staged clashes allowed me to comprehend the reality of that piece of history more fully. Even though the individual struggles presented in the show were fictional, they brought to life what once were merely words in my history textbooks. Although I have studied history ever since I started school, I have always approached the subject matter with a certain detachment simply because I was not personally involved in the majority of history, nor were any of my friends or relatives. On the other hand, the history that is being written today, such as the war in Iraq, affects me much more directly, and I doubt I will ever read about it with the same objectivity as I do the Thirty Years’ War.
Live theatre has the unique ability to alter one’s perspective on a part of history, and my dramatic experiences have resulted in more than one paradigm shift. After performing in “Ragtime,” my entire view of the racial conflicts at the turn of the century in America was transformed, as that time period now holds much more personal significance to me. Although a number of the characters and situations in “Ragtime” are fictional, they are representative of the real struggles faced by Americans of their disposition at a point in our history that no longer seems quite so distant.
The influential effect that my experiences in live theatre have had on my life perspectives has shaped my belief that theatre has the power to transform attitudes and, with them, lives.
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