Oct. 17, 2012 - Issue #887: Dedfest
Directed by Barbara Mah
La Cité Francophone, $28
Set in 1906, the Tony Award-winning musical Ragtime creates a portrait of life for three families as they face prejudice and the struggle for freedom.
One such character is Coalhouse Walker Jr, played by Orville Cameron. He's a Harlem ragtime musician who has the means to afford luxuries such as a Model T Ford, something unheard of for a black man in that time period. But Walker faces racism to its full extent, and the production follows the roller coaster of emotions that accompany such adversity.
"I see a lot of myself in Coalhouse to tell you the truth," Cameron says, adding he was often the only black child in his class growing up in Sherwood Park. "I always knew I was different. I always knew there were more eyes on me because there were so few of us and I can relate to some of those racial struggles. I can remember encountering racism for the first time and being discriminated against because of my colour."
Like his character, Cameron has experienced success in his career, but finds he still struggles for acceptance and equality, despite modern society protesting an evolved outlook on the matter.
"I think we're naive to think that racism doesn't exist," he adds, "As much as we've progressed a long way, we still have a long way to go as far as acceptance is concerned and the treatment of races as equals."
To capture the essence of the time period, the actors adopt language considered taboo today, and director Barbara Mah says while it was a challenge for them to revert to terms they have been taught were offensive, there's an understanding it's done for the overall service of the production.
"The 'N' word is tossed around by a few people and some things are actually used for comic relief because the writers who did this knew it would be seen by a 20th and 21st century audience, so someone who is of good reading would just not have said that these days," Mah says of the script, which she's grateful called for an ethnically diverse cast to fill fictional and non-fictional characters like Henry Ford—something she says is often uncommon in mainstream theatre.
"I've encouraged my fellow actors not to be scared of those words, to really make them heartfelt," Cameron says. "We want to make this real. This is what it was and even today racism's not dead. It still exists in many parts of the world, but we want to transport the audience to early turn-of-the-century America and New York City and bring those to life." vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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