Ragtime to bring The Black Rep to Edison
Students will see some new actors in Edison Theatre for the production of “Ragtime,” opening Oct. 16, as some of the cast is made up of actors from The Black Rep.
“It’s very rare,” Robert Henke, Chair of the Performing Arts Department (PAD) said of the collaboration with The Black Rep for this production.
Henke said that he has worked with the department for 18 years and said he was unsure if working with an outside organization had been done previously.
“We’ve had a relationship with The Black Rep for six or seven years,” Henke said.
The Black Rep does a play in Edison during their season, and Ron Himes, the director, has a joint appointment in African and African American studies.
“We have this wonderful resource with The Black Rep, and Ron Himes and I were talking about it and we thought we’d try to make this an even closer and dynamic relationship,” Henke said of the move. “We thought if we could combine forces for a fall musical that we would really mix our audiences and it would be a wonderful way for the students to work with not only Ron Himes but also actors from The Black Rep who are in the production.”
According to Henke, the choreographer and musical director are from The Black Rep.
“It’s been working out. [Ragtime] has got an elaborate set. There’s been a wonderful collaboration between the set designers and set builders at The Black Rep and in the PAD,” Henke said.
The Black Rep’s set builders have been working on building the set, along with builders from the PAD.
“It’s logistically a challenge because of the set and there’s a cast of about 50. There’s a lot of dance, there’s a lot of music, so it’s a complicated show,” Henke said.
Other plays this year are also going to require outside actors to fill roles, including Fabulation in March.
“Several members of the cast need to be African-American, so this year, we’re really working hard to diversify our plays and our cast and our crew,” Henke said.
Henke said there will be a faculty colloquium on Oct. 20 in Edison on the issue of civil disobedience and legal principles; Henke, and Himes will be participants. Himes is also teaching a course this semester on ragtime.
“We like to do that. This is college theater, we’re really situated in a liberal arts environment so we produce plays that we believe have important cultural and political intellectual dimensions,” Henke said.
“They get to work with a nationally-known director, Ron Himes, and these professional actors and choreographers,” Henke said of what students gain from working with a professional group.
Henke said that doing the production without the help of The Black Rep would not be feasible.
“Just looking at the set alone, I don’t think we could have produced it completely out of our shop—I think this combination of the student actors and The Black Rep actors was necessary because there’s a certain age range, and we can do a lot ourselves, but it’s hard to imagine doing this on our own.”
The timing of the show also came into play.
“We’re opening on Fall Break. We’d never do that if we hadn’t been counting on audience members who typically go to Black Rep shows,” Henke said. “[The Black Rep] packs the house in Edison. They’re a great company.”
Junior Nick May said he plans to attend the musical during its opening weekend.
“They need people, so why not?” May said of the PAD enlisting the help of The Black Rep. “You’re not going to find a 30-year-old on campus to be in the show.”
May said that he would have attended the show regardless of whether The Black Rep was involved.
Henke said that coordinating so many people has been difficult but that the director and others are sensitive to issues of being a student while producing the show. Henke said that more than 100 people are working to make the production a success.
“There have been challenges, but there has really been a great spirit of optimism about it from the beginning,” Henke said.
“Ragtime” is originally based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow and was adapted by Terrence McNally. The musical follows three groups—a Jewish immigrant family, an upper-class Protestant family and an African-American family—through a period of social upheaval in America.