Pemco Forum

Ragtime 100 Years Later: Defining Our Generation’s American Dream

It will be held Weds., Feb.7th, at 7:30pm in Washington Hall. It is significant because the Pasquerilla East Musical Company, in its 10 years of existence as a student group at Notre Dame, has never a.) attempted a show as ambitious as Ragtime; and b.) never held any sort of panel discussion, as no previous show has really opened up this possibility. But the subject matter, language, and story-lines of Ragtime demand further consideration and discussion, so we wanted to help facilitate that dialogue.

This event will also be significant because it is being done without the formal or financial support of any department or college at ND -- it is all happening because of the thoughts and actions of students involved in PEMCo. and of those, especially in Notre Dame's African-American community, who have expressed a desire to further explore what Ragtime speaks to -- the experiences of established whites in New York state, blacks in Harlem, and immigrants from all over as they enter America.

The forum is being presented by PEMCo. and co-sponsored by two student groups: Shades of Ebony and Wabruda.

Here is a description of what we hope to address:

"A century ago, the people who made up the American "melting pot" all had their own version of the American Dream. As evident in our production of "Ragtime," for many, the dream was financial success, social status, and respect. For many, discrimination on the basis sex, race, and country of origin was a major obstacle between people and achieving their goals. Our nation has changed significantly since turn-of-the-twentieth-century America and the era of rag music. Today, we live in a country that has overcome our issues of racism, sexism, and economic inequality, and we have a more mature understanding of our Dream...but do we really?

"What exactly is the American Dream of our generation? How does it pertain to differences in race, sex, and economic class? What should today's students demand of our country in this era? What should our country demand of us in the next?

"These are all questions that have arisen as we in PEMCo. have discussed the meaning and message behind our show, especially focusing on the use of racially-charged, discriminatory language. With this forum we seek to gain some insights on these questions and share them openly among our company and the greater Notre Dame community."

Here's a preliminary schedule:
7:30 - Greeting & welcome by this year's PEMCo. producers, Brad Lancy and Tim Masterton
7:40- Opening Statements by Jack Calcutt, Director of Ragtime and/or Anna Mazig, Assistant Director of Acting and Outreach for PEMCo. and Member of Shades of Ebony
7:50 - Presentations by Panelists (listed below)
8:30 - Questions from the cast & crew of PEMCo, and from the audience moderated by Andrea Laidman, Choreographer of Ragtime and/or a rep from Wabruda/Shades
9:00 - Brief Closing Statement from the Presidents of Shades and Wabruda

In addition to student representatives speaking, the above slot for panelist presentations will feature comment from:
-Dr. Donald Pope-Davis, Dean of the Graduate School and past professor of a class addressing the psychology of race
-Dr. G. David Moss, Assistant Vice President, Office of Student Affairs, and Wabruda Advisor
-Dr. Martin Wolfson, Associate Professor, Economics and Policy Studies, and civil rights advocate
-Ms. Crystal Blount, a Notre Dame graduate student researching the impact of psychological stress from incidents of racial or ethnic discrimination
-Ms. Christy Fleming Greene, Assistant Professional Specialist, First Year of Studies, and Shades of Ebony advisor

Notre Dame News and Information

January 31, 2007

Students to perform “Ragtime” and host academic forum discussing the musical’s social, cultural themes
By Shannon Chapla

The Pasquerilla East Musical Company (PEMCo) at the University of Notre Dame will present “Ragtime” Feb. 2, 3, 9 and 10 in Washington Hall on campus and host an academic forum titled “Ragtime 100 Years Later: Defining Our Generation’s American Dream” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 7).

Admission to the musical is $8 ($6 for students and seniors) and tickets are available by calling the LaFortune Student Center box office at 574-631-8128. The forum is free and open to the public. All performances will take place at 7:30 p.m.

Based on E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, “Ragtime” highlights the experiences of established whites in New York, African-Americans in Harlem and immigrants from all over, as they come together in America in the early 1900s.

The forum will analyze the meanings and messages of the production, focusing on the use of racially charged, discriminatory language, as well as the “American dream” and how it pertains to differences in race, gender and economic class.

Panelists will include Don Pope-Davis, dean of the Graduate School and professor of psychology, who specializes in cultural and racial identity development; G. David Moss, assistant vice president for Student Affairs; Martin Wolfson, associate professor of economics, whose areas of interest include the effects of the economy on the welfare of working people; Crystal Blount, a Notre Dame graduate student who is researching the impact of psychological stress from racial or ethnic discrimination; and Christy Fleming Greene, assistant professional specialist in the First Year of Studies and an advisor to the student group Shades of Ebony.

Founded 10 years ago, PEMCo is the largest student-run musical theater company on campus and is composed of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College students from all backgrounds. It is complemented by a pit orchestra including members of the Notre Dame Band.

The forum is co-sponsored by the student groups Shades of Ebony and Wabruda.

The Observer

February 09, 2007

'Ragtime' explores race issues
by Emily Keebler

Members of the Pasquerilla East Musical Company (PEMCo.) - joined by faculty members and a graduate student - facilitated exploration into the emotionally charged issues of race, class and the American dream Wednesday night in their production of "Ragtime, the Musical."

Director and senior Jack Calcutt said the key to this year's production is to "watch it, reflect on it and learn from it." The leaders of PEMCo. decided to hold an academic panel to facilitate this discussion on the Wednesday between the two weekends of shows. The last two performances of Ragtime will take place today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Washington Hall.

Panelists included Donald Pope-Davis, dean of the graduate school, G. David Moss, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and advisor to the black men's group Wabruda, Martin Wolfson, associate professor of economics and policy studies, graduate student Crystal Blount and Christy Fleming Greene, advisor for Shades of Ebony and assistant professional specialist in the First Year of Studies.

The panelists reflected on the show, which Calcutt called "an ambitious production."

Blount agreed that Ragtime is a thematically difficult show to put on and to watch.

"It did seem to be a difficult performance - not only for the cast, but for the audience as well - because of the emotional issues involved," Blount said.

Blount conducts research on the impact of psychological stress from incidents she calls "micro-aggressions" - daily insults that result from racial or ethnic discrimination.

Black and multi-racial panelists and audience members acknowledged such discrimination and its far-reaching effects.

"The racial tension that was here when I was at Notre Dame - that still exists," Fleming Greene said.

She and other panelists urged students, regardless of nationality, to speak out against racial discrimination and live the concept of the Notre Dame family on a daily basis.

"We have to say that if this affects you, this affects me," Pope-Davis said.

Another theme of the forum was about taking personal accountability for one's language and actions, especially since the use of racial slurs in the musical caused controversy about whether it should be performed on campus.

Calcutt said listening to experts and students express their views was a rewarding experience.

"[Race] is an emotional issue," he said. "It's important to know that this is at the core of some people."

Discussion has been part of the show from the beginning, Calcutt said, and Wednesday's forum was a way to "make it formal," as well as to involve the campus.

While controversy persists about the show's content, panelists said ultimately, the debate has been unifying for the black campus community.

"There was an ownership of this production by the black students that I hadn't seen before: 'You know what, this is my campus ... this is who I am. I am Notre Dame. This conversation will take place because I am a part of Notre Dame,'" Fleming Greene said.

Another topic discussed at the forum was the concept of the American dream, especially as it relates to race, class and country of origin.

"['Ragtime'] raised very important questions about the American dream in 1907," Wolfson said. "It remains for us to ask the question of the American dream in 2007."

Wolfson cited unemployment, poverty and income statistics that, despite civil rights granted to blacks, demonstrate the racial disparity that still exists, including within the South Bend community.

But the ultimate message of "Ragtime" should be one of hope, Calcutt said.

"If we have courage, as is evidenced in this production, we can achieve the American dream," he said.