Maybe it’s just me, but when someone says they want to put on a show, I’m figuring they want to direct it or star in it – probably both. So it comes as a surprise when Akron Civic Theatre, a Knight Arts grantee, got into “producer” mode.
The Civic has heretofore been – as Val Renner (media/publicity/event manager) puts it – a “scheduler.” You want to rent the place, call Val. Promoters do. They see the fine reputation the theater has for filling seats and they make the call, looking to book a space for talent that may not be able to fill a stadium, but can attract enough people (it’s a 2,500-seat facility) to make some money and show off the goods.
The Civic also has opted – quite nicely I might add – to be a presenter. But with a twist. The theater’s aim is a double-sided one: to put local people both in the seats and on the stage. That’s particularly awesome.
Last year and this year, with their “All City Musicals,” the theater administration is taking a new turn. Akron Civic Theatre is putting on plays that include all local talent. For this year’s production, the Tony Award-winning “Ragtime,” the theater widened the sphere and went beyond the city limits to look for actors in Summit County.
Auditions were held at several locales, and talent was selected out to fill the 70 or so young people (all high school age) and adults who will act, direct, costume, set design, light, choreograph and teach the music for this mature and serious musical.
Val Renner commented in an interview that this year’s selection is a stretch mainly because the musical has mature themes and a complicated historical context. Taken from E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name, the story includes historical figures (Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Admiral Peary and the like) into a tale of three groups of people (upper middle class white family, black Harlem folks and Jewish-European immigrants) who are all trying to make and live the American dream. Murder, class warfare, anti-industrialism, scandal and fraud – all these ideas surface in the fast-paced action of a story primarily and almost totally told through song (like an opera).
As Val Renner states it, however, the bottom line is that the central idea is: “Can’t we all just get along?” There’s the American version of that, where outsiders want in, and want in bad. The rugged individual asserts his or her right to belong. So the story becomes not one of tolerance per se, but of insistence and perseverance.
Now that’s a story worthy of the stage, so no wonder the musical won a slew of Tony Awards. And no wonder Akron Civic Theatre picked it out to tell.
“Ragtime” will be performed Friday, June 14 (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday, June 15 (2:30p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) at Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St., Akron; 330-253-2488; www.akroncivic.com. Tickets are $10-$25.