Ragtime, opening on 1 September at the Arts Centre Gym, follows the stories of an upper-class wife, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring young Harlem musician in early 20th century New York. It is the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) at Ara musical extravaganza for 2016 with a large cast of talented young performers.
Two of the lead performers looked to their families and their own lives to explore the show's themes of cultural identity and belonging to an adopted country.
Emiliano Pereyra arrived in Christchurch 12 years ago with his parents and very young sister. "It was really hard for the first 6 months," he recalls. "I was nine. I had no English, zero, so it was difficult to fit in because of the language barrier, but also because the culture is very different – in terms of personal space for example, we are huggy people, but here it is more English, more distant."
"I don't see myself as kiwi,
but New Zealand is home."
Just as portrayed in the musical, Emiliano's parents wanted a better future for their children.
"My parents came here on a whim; they sold everything and they did it for my sister and I. It's a different reality here. However, my Dad lost his job and I know now, because my mum told me, that we got down to $86 in the bank. Like the characters in Ragtime, my parents spared their children from the problems. Then Dad got a job farming - and they never looked back."
Emiliano still identifies strongly with South America. "It's very important not to forget where you come from. I will always feel that Uruguay is home. I relate better to people there, it's my culture and language, but I am so grateful to New Zealand, because it gave me many opportunities. I don't see myself as kiwi, but New Zealand is home."
It's a home that he finds tolerant and culturally diverse.
Albany Peseta's parents immigrated from closer to New Zealand, but their reasons were similar. In Samoa they lived off the land, and here they wanted a better life for their children.
Albany relates to his character too. "He gets treated unfairly but he stands up for what is right.
"Yes there are stereotypes in New Zealand. Most days there is something. When someone sees a brown boy they think they are unsafe, that something will go wrong or that the person might start a fight. But we are not all like that - that is very much the minority. It doesn't matter who you are, everyone is equal."
Achievement was high on his parents' priorities and Albany didn't disappoint, becoming the first Samoan head boy at his school and honing his singing voice at the Samoan church and Sunday school.
Despite his success, Albany, a self-confessed born performer, was not confident about auditioning for NASDA. He was inspired eventually by fellow Pasifika performer Asovale Luma who graduated from NASDA last year and is pursuing a Masters qualification.
"It's my time now," Albany says. "Others took the leap and I did it too. Our dream is now to get more Pasific Islanders into NASDA and into Ara."
"It doesn't matter who you are,
everyone is equal."
Ragtime is the heartwarming vehicle as these young performers work hard towards their futures, balancing their own dreams with the hopes and sacrifices of their parents.
Ragtime is an ambitious show for NASDA and a shift back to Christchurch performances after several post-earthquake years in venues in Ashburton and Rangiora. "It's good to bring theatre back to Christchurch. There are a lot of strong themes in the play but it is also fun and exciting with great music."
Ragtime is at the Christchurch Arts Centre Gym, 1, 2 and 3 September at 7.30pm, 3 September at 1pm and 4 September at 4pm. Tickets are $30/$45 on sale now from https://www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/nasda-presents-ragtime-tickets-26891967599?aff=es2.
See www.ara.ac.nz/nasda for more information.