Picking Up Steam

The company of Ragtime was well into previews on October 29th, when we had our big full costume photo call. This took place during our daytime rehearsal slot; we had a performance the night before and a performance that evening, so everyone was tired but surprisingly good-natured. When we weren’t being used onstage for a shot, we were able to sit out in the house and see what the show looked like to the audience. Not every scene was photographed since photos had been taken from the house several times over the dress tech and preview period. This particular session was to set up some posed shots; this photo is from early in the session, with Robert Petkoff and Sarah Rosenthal in “Journey On.”

It was also a chance to take some photos of Derek McLane’s set from angles not seen by the audience, and to get some closeup photos of Santo Loquasto’s wonderfully detailed costumes and Edward J. Wilson’s meticulous wig and hair designs. The lighting is doing funky things to this shot, but here’s a look at the stage from my perspective during “New Music”:

The set had five levels: the deck (or stage level), Level One (a balcony that wrapped the perimeter of the playing area), Level Two (a catwalk that ran across the rear of the playing area, just above the center balcony of Level One), Level Three (balconies at left and right, attached by a catwalk that could be moved up and down), and Level Four (a stationary catwalk above Level Two and at the extreme upstage of the playing area). During “New Music,” I stood at the downstage left edge of Level 1; this view is looking across at the stage right part of Level 1, with the catwalk visible at the upper right of the photo. From left to right, standing on Level One are Jonathan Hammond and Savannah Wise (in full Houdini and Evelyn Nesbit gear), Catherine Walker and Associate Director/Choreographer and cast member Josh Walden fidgeting with his costume. Just to the right of Josh, on Level Two, is Eric Jordan Young. On Level Three above are Carly Hughes and Nicole Powell (I think that’s Corey Bradley just behind Carly), and Stephanie Umoh seated on the Level Three catwalk in the foreground.

This is ensemble member Mamie Parris on the Level One center balcony, with Christopher Cox (Little Boy) lounging on the rolling stair unit just below. There was a gate built into the railing at that point, and Mamie is opening it so that Christiane Noll (Mother) can climb from the deck level up the stair unit and enter Level 1. The stair unit and another gate at the downstage right section of Level One were utilized similarly in the scene leading into “Goodbye My Love”. If you look at the floor of the balcony, you’ll see that the carpet lining the walkway has been painted with a grate design, one of the many details that made this set so amazing. Its welded steel design meant that it was extremely sturdy, and because it was “hung” rather than built, this means that it was constructed from the top down, rather than the other way around. I was told the weight of the set at one point but it’s since slipped my mind; I do remember that the set piece that was flown in for the Morgan Library scene in the second act weighed in the neighborhood of 6,000 pounds. Knowing this, is it any wonder that those connected with the production wince when others refer to this Ragtime as “scaled down?”

Here are ensemble members Jennifer Evans and Benjamin Schrader, fellow denizens of Level 1 Left during “New Music” (that’s Christiane Noll holding one of the many Coalhouse babies in the background). You can see more of the set details in this shot – the filigreed angles are particularly pretty, I think. You can also see the loving work that went into Jennifer’s wig, and the gorgeous hat that Ben is holding – one of many in the show. One thing that is missing from this shot are the body mics all of us wore in performance – since this was just a photo shoot, we weren’t wearing them. I’ve never been a big fan of body mics (I’m one of the dinosaurs that learned my craft before the era of personal amplification), but I learned a new trick with this production – we wore the mic packs inside our wigs! The mic packs were only about 2×3 inches and the mics themselves were tiny; maybe half an inch long. Those of us who wore wigs (all the females except the Little Girl) prepped our hair into pincurls, then pulled a stocking cap over the prep. Our mic packs were placed in little pockets mounted on a stretchy elastic base, and the wig crew pinned those onto our wig caps, drawing the mic cord along the top of the head and pinning the mic into place so that it would hang just below the hairline of our wigs. Then the wig was fitted and pinned into place on top of the whole rig. It was heaven not to have a mic pack on a belt on my body, nor to fiddle with the cord at the back of my neck, and it certainly made quick changes much easier. Since the gentlemen of the cast didn’t wear wigs, they still had to wear the belts, but I was always tickled at how cleverly the mics themselves were concealed (for example, the Little Boy’s mic was attached to the glasses he wore throughout the show).

We moved from the first act into the second, and spent some time setting up “What A Game.” Here’s a picture of the gentlemen in that number showing off their very fine hats and facial hair. From left to right, front row: Josh Walden, Benjamin Schrader. Second row: Dan Manning, Jonathan Hammond, Mike McGowan. Third row: Ron Bohmer, Christopher Cox. Fourth row: Aaron Galligan-Stierle, Mark Aldrich, Michael X. Martin. I always thought it was clever the way the dining room set from the previous scene was transformed into the bleachers for this number.

One of the unsung heroes of our production was John Mara, the child guardian or “wrangler,” who was responsible for the safety and well-being of the six children in our cast: Christopher Cox, Sarah Rosenthal, Benjamin Cook, Kaylie Rubinaccio, Jayden Brockington and Kylil Christopher Williams. Here he looks on as Jayden and Robert Petkoff share a quiet moment while “What A Game” was being photographed. John was a constant presence backstage, escorting the kids to places, keeping the ones who weren’t onstage occupied and happy, dealing with all the small dramas and little tragedies of which the grownup cast members were largely unaware. The kids in the show were a pleasure to work with, and that was in no small part due to John

We moved from “What A Game” into “Atlantic City/Buffalo Nickel,” and some of the prettiest costumes in the show. The costumes for the Atlantic City band were a beautiful bright red with blue details, but for some reason they came out looking pretty electric when I photographed them (probably due to the setting I was using on my camera). From left to right are Carly Hughes, Wallace Smith, Corey Bradley, Nicole Powell, Valisia Lekae and Arbender J. Robinson. Behind them you can see the bright blue cyc that formed the backdrop for the Atlantic City scenes.

Tracy Lynn Olivera is wearing one of the more elaborate hats in the show. You can’t see the crown of it, but it looked like a whorl of creamy meringue. What you can see is the black lace detailing around the hat’s brim, as well the amazing amount of detail in the neckline and bodice of her dress and the intricate styling of her hair. It was hard for us to appreciate the workmanship of these costumes during the show, as we were usually tearing in and out of them in our rush to make a costume change, so it was nice to get a chance during this photo call to relax and admire the costumes under the stage lighting.

I’ll finish with a little video clip I took as the photo session was drawing to a close. There’s a certain amount of goofing around going on, but it’s a nice pan of the set, including the stage crew setting up the prop camera on the rolling stair unit, as well as some costumes you might not have seen before. Savannah and Catherine, I apologize for the “up” shot at the end of the clip!

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