There's no doubt the American experience is unlike any other. Our nation began as a grand experiment in democracy and evolved into a vibrant melting pot of different people, culture and ideas. But as much as we have changed, many of the challenges we face today dealing with race, equal rights and immigration are the same ones faced by Americans at the turn of the century. It was an era known as Ragtime. And now, a powerful musical playing at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre is inviting audiences to better understand the present, by taking a sobering look at our past.
Ragtime is a sweeping story about what it means to be an American, told from the perspectives of three seemingly very different people... a Jewish immigrant, a talented young musician hailing from Harlem and an upper class white woman.
"My character, "Mother," a wealthy woman who lives in New Rochelle with her family, her husband and her son in a very… in a bubble," explained actress, Kendra Kassebaum. "I would say in her world and a situation comes to her and it shifts her whole way of thinking."
"And, I play Coalhouse Walker Junior," continued actor, Douglas Lyons. "He's a musician, he's a ladies man. He is ushering in Ragtime this new sound, this new syncopation throughout the story. He's a bit self righteous but he also believes his skin color did not limit him and that he deserves the respect that any man deserves."
Their paths intertwine, leading to dramatic developments. But, it's their character's shared belief in a brighter tomorrow that makes this production so personal to the actors.
"I feel like it all comes back down to simple kindness and that's the first step right?" said Kassebaum.
"Yeah, and I think it's a responsibility for one another which we forget," continued Lyons. "We get so wrapped up in our own stories, In our own lives and I think America and the world in general is the best we use each other to learn."
Though set at the turn of the 20th century, the actors feel the issues it brings up are just as relevant to today's world.
"We had a day of just sitting around the table and breaking down the script and it was emotional, it was truthful, everybody was able to have their points of view come out because we're dealing with race, we're dealing with women's rights and the struggles of people during that time" explained Kassebaum. "So, it's just brought up a lot of questions and let's talk about this we honor our history what has happened but how frightening at the end of this show we're at a loss because we don't… it's like wait this is us now. How did this happen? "
Ragtime music provides the heartbeat of this show.
"I think the usage of the music ragtime is the backdrop for all of the different stories and it's the thing that they all have in common which brings them together but also separates them in a very interesting way," said Lyons.
"The music is just it makes those moments your favorite," said Kassebaum. "Because, it just sweeps you away, the orchestrations are huge, but the story's so simple and small. That contrast is so magical."
Also magical, how our country's past and present trials and tribulations are brought to life on stage.
"The great thing about this show is it doesn't force any opinion," Kassebaum continued. "You can leave thinking whatever you want to. We hope it's to the positive."
Ragtime runs at 5th Ave through November 5. For tickets, click here.