- Milton Musical Society will stage musical Ragtime set in 1902 New York
- Hampshire-based group previously had no black people among 80 actors
- It eventually had to recruit black actors from 30 miles away to play parts
04:19, 1 February 2013
04:44, 1 February 2013
An amateur dramatic society is finally staging its production of a musical tackling immigration and racial prejudice – after taking two years to find any black actors.
Milton Musical Society, which is based in New Milton, Hampshire, had decided to produce Ragtime, set in 1902 New York – but the theatrical group had no black people among its 80 members.
The only black person they knew working in the market town was a pharmacist – who did not sing or act – and the group’s committee said it would be inappropriate to allow white actors to ‘black-up’.
Showtime: The cast of the Ragtime in Hampshire, which stars Nicole Northern and Alexander Clarke (front)
Members had to go on a recruitment drive,
including approaching certain black people they spotted at work or out
shopping. They finally found their leading man and lady from towns 30
The society had hoped to stage the
show last year but had to postpone it upon failing to fill the 10 black
roles in time. But it now has three black men and three black women in a
Society member Jonathan Shiner, 61,
said: ‘New Milton and the surrounding areas have largely white
populations, which is reflected in our membership.
‘When we are looking for a white man
or a white girl we have 100,000 options and therefore rarely have
trouble filling these roles.
Practice: The cast of Ragtime the musical in rehearsals. It took two years to find black actors for the show
Teamwork: Milton Musical Society decided to produce the musical, which looks at immigration and racism
‘However, with Ragtime, we need
around 10 black performers, who are able to sing and act to a high
standard. Unfortunately, there are very few black families in our
catchment area to begin with.
‘You could put white people in the shadows and pretend they are black, or have them on stage as a silhouette, but we want to do it properly’
Jonathan Shiner, 61, Milton Musical Society member
‘By the time you take out those who
are the wrong age or wrong gender and those who cannot sing and act we
lose a further 90 per cent. The odds of finding the right people are
stacked against us.’
He added: ‘We discussed the option of
blacking up early on but dismissed it immediately because it is not
appropriate in modern theatre practice.
‘You could put white people in the
shadows and pretend they are black, or have them on stage as a
silhouette, but we want to do it properly. Ideally, we would like 10
black actors and actresses.’
Jazz hands: After two years Milton Musical Society have filled all the roles for Ragtime, which will be on in April
Instructions: Nicole Northern (left) and Alexander Clarke (right) pictured with director John Teather (centre)
Leading man Alex Clarke, 48, who
plays Coalhouse Walker, said: ‘It’s been a struggle finding black people
from this area to fill the roles.
‘Most of my black friends and followers are from larger cities, rather than rural Hampshire and Dorset. Everybody at the society has been incredibly friendly and very welcoming’
Alex Clarke, 48, leading man who plays Coalhouse Walker
‘I’ve got about 5,000 friends or
followers on Facebook and I promoted the musical on there in a bid to find actors but we have still not got all we would like.
‘Most of my black friends and
followers are from larger cities, rather than rural Hampshire and
Dorset. Everybody at the society has been incredibly friendly and very
Southampton-based race consultant Don
John said: ‘There are not many black people living in this part of the
country, so I understand why the society has had some difficulty filling
‘It’s very brave of the society to
stand by their principles and not go down the easy route of allowing
white actors to black-up.
Musical posters: The society’s committee refused to let white actors ‘black-up’ after deeming it inappropriate
Finally on: The society had hoped to stage the show last year but failed to fill the 10 black roles in time
‘Letting white actors black-up would
be totally inappropriate. Some people might be outraged at white people
blacking-up but I think we have moved beyond that now.’
GROUP CANCELLED SAVILE SHOW
The Milton Musical Society was forced to cancel a production called The Top
of the Pops Years last year
in the wake of the Jimmy Savile (right) sex scandal.
The show was due to be performed at a local hall in November but organisers decided to scrap it following complaints by the public.
The group had already spend thousands of pounds promoting the show with materials featuring Savile. All tickets were refunded.
The 400-seater theatre at the Regent
Centre, in Christchurch, Dorset, will host five performances of the
musical, with tickets costing £14.50 each. Rehearsals started one month
The society’s show posters say: ‘This
show follows the explosive relationships as immigrants arrive on the
great liners to a new land already struggling with racial harmony and
‘This real-life drama, set at
the turn of the century, follows the struggle of the black community to
assert their independence from the white community, against a
background of the country flooded with European immigrants hungry for a
new life, and industrial and civil strife.’