KIDSTAGE explores race in ‘Ragtime’

July 27, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Nick Johnson (left), Jordon Bolden, Aaron Johnson, Madison Willis and Robert Poole perform the "Gettin' Ready Rag" with the many other 18-and-under cast members in a rehearsal for the Village Theatre KIDSTAGE production of "Ragtime." By Greg Farrar

The power and drama of the American experience at the turn of the 20th century unfolds on Village Theatre’s Mainstage as aspiring young actors from the theater’s KIDSTAGE program present “Ragtime” July 31 – Aug. 8.

Tackling issues of poverty and wealth, hope and despair, and freedom and prejudice, the musical unfolds as a story told from the perspectives of three very different families living in post-industrial America.

One of the show’s main characters, Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker Jr., is faced with racism as he tries to make a career for himself as an artist.

The show is a challenge for young actors, because it deals with a wide variety of issues that allows them to stretch their abilities, said Renton resident Jordan Bolden, 16, who plays Walker.

“Ragtime” takes on a very different tone from the program’s Summer Independent production, “All Shook Up,” a family-friendly comedy that ran through July 24. “It is a show you can take the whole family to, but I think it is a show families should come in with the expectation that they will have to talk to their children afterward,” said Black Diamond resident Elise Myette, 18, who plays Mother, a matriarch of a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant family. “It has big themes and some could be hard to understand for younger children. But it is a way to teach children not to buy into racism or class systems, so they can make the future better.”

The KIDSTAGE youth theater program — which began in 1985 as Village Theatre’s youth program for children and young adults, ages 3-20 — produces two full theatrical productions each summer. The Summer Independent is managed from inception to curtain call by the student actors; the Summer Stock production is staged with help from the theater’s professional company of actors, directors and stage workers.

“What I love about KIDSTAGE is actually the kids. I love the passion and drive that all the kids bring,” Bolden said. “Not only is it a professional program, but it gives kids an opportunity to feel as if they are performing on a Broadway stage.”

In all, more than 46 youths, ages 8-18, make up this year’s Summer Stock production.

The musical is based on the 1975 novel “Ragtime,” by E.L. Doctorow; it tells the story of three families living in the greater-New York area. It was adapted for the stage by Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.

Three main characters — Walker, Mother and Tateh, a Latvian Jewish immigrant — represent each family’s experience.

Through their eyes, audiences watch as each family toils through the day-to-day, hustle and bustle of New York existence — at the top and bottom of the social chain.

“Even though this story is set at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, a lot of issues remain prevalent in our society,” Director Eric Jensen said. “They say, of history, that you are bound to repeat it if you don’t learn from it. This is a great opportunity for people to examine these in a rich musical and a great performance. Perhaps, they will also look at the nation and world today, and see how the world has changed for the better and how we can continue to change it.”

Throughout, characters come into contact with important historical icons of the time, like Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford and Booker T. Washington, who help inspire them to persevere.

With powerful music like “Your Daddy’s Son,” “Wheels of a Dream,” and “Make Them Hear You,” that hark back to classic gospel, ragtime, marches and cakewalks, the young actors have their work cut out for them.

You’ll leave the theater inspired, though, cast members said.

“It is full of great music,” Myette said. “It is also one of the best-written shows that I’ve ever seen or been a part of.”

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

If you go

‘Ragtime’

July 31 – Aug. 8, showtimes vary

$15 for general admission

$13 for youth and seniors

Francis J. Gaudette Theatre

303 Front St. N.

392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org

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