Three families of different ethnic backgrounds are living at the beginning of a new century. Their parallel journeys depict racial tensions, strife and the threat of a war overseas, each of which portray of the American experience. What sounds like a modern headline is actually the plot of “Ragtime,” a musical set 100 years ago with themes that still ring true today.
Maha McCain is an actress and senior lecturer at the University of Miami. She will be performing in the ensemble as part of a group of immigrants and Harlem residents in the Actor’s Playhouse production of “Ragtime,” which opened Friday and will run through Feb. 22.
The Miami Hurricane spoke with McCain about her “Ragtime” experience – how theater can expose students to a world beyond their phones and what audiences can learn from the musical.
The Miami Hurricane (TMH): What do you expect most from performing “Ragtime?”
Maha McCain: Oh, it’s just fun – it’s been a lot of fun doing this show. The cast is great. We all get along really well with each other. We had our first audience Wednesday night. They were great audiences, so we’re just going to keep on doing what we’ve been doing. We try to give everyone a really great show.
TMH: What can an audience expect from “Ragtime?”
MM: I think, more than anything, to be surprised because it’s not what people think of as your typical musical. I mean, most people think of musical theater as being very lighthearted – you know, just a lot of fun singing, dancing and very cute stories. And this is just one of those shows which really goes for the heart and the truth of the human condition. And I think that they’ll be surprised at how the story being set 100 years ago is still really relevant with all the social strife in America that is going on today.
TMH: Why do you think students should come see this show?
MM: I think theater is a great tool for young people in general, especially for students whether or not they’re studying the arts. I think it’s a great tool of communication and expression for them to be exposed to being able to see different parts of not only just our country, but the world through theater. And it gives people a way to engage those cultures that on one hand feel safe because, you know, it’s theater, this is suspension of disbelief that’s going on.
But also, that it does challenge you to think in a different way. I think for my experience, at least, with students is that most kids today come to school digital natives and so they’re so used to looking at things on their phones on their computers or on their tablets and to have to put that all away and deal with this live event in front of you and to put your focus into that and follow the story I think awakens a different part of the brain that a lot of young people just haven’t had a chance either to be exposed to or put themselves out there to engage in. I think once they do they’ll find out how much they really enjoyed and liked it. And we hope that will help them want to come back to the theater again and again to see different types of shows.
TMH: What would you say to students who want to pursue a career in the theater?
MM: Get ready to work hard. It’s fun but there’s a lot of dedication you have to put into it, a lot of studying, a lot of attention to detail. And when I say work hard I don’t mean just buckle down studying, but get ready to use their bodies, use their brains, use their voices all at the same time to communicate something from the heart. I think to throw yourself into that it does take a lot of courage.
IF YOU GO
Where: Actor’s Playhouse, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, FL 33134
When: Through Feb. 22
Cost: $52-59. Student Rush tickets are available for $15 15 minutes before curtain Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
This story has been updated with the complete transcript of the Q&A.