Texas State Theatre’s “Ragtime” Gives Insight on Race Relations

By Addison McKissack
Guest Student Journalist

*The following article was not written by a KTSW staff member, but by a student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It does not reflect the opinions and values of KTSW.

As racial issues continue to grow in the Texas State community, the Department of Theatre and Dance’s decision to open the musical “Ragtime” demonstrates the longtime prevalence of such conflict.

Texas State has faced explicit displays of racism on campus since November 2016. Key events have ranged from anti-Semitic posters to neo-Nazi propaganda being displayed on Alkek Library.  As the student body becomes increasingly more diverse, these racist events become more indicative of a  high-risk environment for minority students.

With the changing political environment on campus, these events have brought up a great deal of conversation.

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Trevor James Berger and Emma Lenderman as Tateh and Emma Goldman in “Success.” Photo by Addison McKissack.

Thus, the need for “Ragtime”.

“Ragtime” is a musical about three families from different racial groups, classes and situations. It follows an affluent white family, a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, and a black man and his family at the turn of the 20th century. All of these families face classism, sexism and racism, despite trying to achieve the American dream.

Anna Uzele, a senior musical theater major, plays Sarah, an African American woman who gives birth at the beginning of the show. Her story ends at the end of act one when she is beaten to death by police because they believe she has a gun.

“Atrocities like that happen and a lot of people want to hide them because they make you uncomfortable,” said Uzele. “But the point is to make you uncomfortable because if we can’t face it on stage, then how can we face it in real life where this is really happening?”

“Ragtime” deals not only with issues of race, but also of immigration. Tateh, a Jewish immigrant, played by Trevor James Berger, a senior musical theater major, comes to America as a way to provide a better life for his young daughter. However, he learns that the country he thought would be a safe haven full of opportunity doesn’t want him.

For Berger, the attitudes that “Ragtime’s” white characters have towards immigrants mirror issues that are occurring today.

“[The people of New Rochelle] are unable to see the bravery and fortitude of a people coming to a new place with nothing more really than the shirts on their backs,” said Berger. “I think what people can take from this show and apply to immigration today is a realization that immigrants are people with families, hopes, and dreams. Just because someone isn’t born here, doesn’t mean the American dream isn’t for them.”

For director Michel Rau, “Ragtime” offers a message of hope in spite of all the issues that the characters and people today face.

“It’s an incredibly hopeful piece that says ‘we can get along, we can change, you can change and we can learn to accept each other and live together in a peaceful way,’” said Rau.

This message of hope is important for the Texas State community to understand as racial and political issues become more prevalent.

“’Ragtime’ paints the picture that yes, these things are happening, but the good is so much greater,” said Uzele. “I understand if there’s fear and if students are scared to go to classes because of this or that ideology that is against them, but ‘Ragtime’ always comes back to that the good is so much greater.”

“Ragtime” is running at the Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre from April 17-22. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Texas State Presents website.

Featured image by Addison McKissack.

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