CA theater students and staff revamped a Model T to have on stage with them in this year’s production of “Ragtime.”
Canandaigua Academy’s musical will feature Dorothy from Kansas, but they’re not performing “The Wizard of Oz.”
For this year’s production of “Ragtime” — a turn-of-the-century musical about three American families set in New York City, based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel — a Model T that the drama department purchased from a dealer in Kansas will hit the stage. Students call her “Dorothy.”
“I remember the first time I got in it,” said sophomore Aaron Michalko, one of the leads in this year’s show. “I just sat down and was like, ‘oh man, I’m in a Model T.’”
When the car first arrived on a flatbed trailer to director Scott Schauman’s house, it wasn’t the shiny black beauty it is today. It was covered in rust, without a speck of paint. The district bought it for $2,700 off the Web site ModelThaven.com. It had wheels (but no tires), a gas tank with a hole and an interior consisting of a bunch of rotted wood.
“When it came to us, it was just a big pile of rust,” said Schauman.
Schauman said he wanted a real Model T in the show because it is iconic to the time period “Ragtime” represents. According to Ford’s Web site, more than 15 million Model T’s were produced, beginning in 1908 and ending in 1927. The car was introduced with a cost of $850 and later sold for as little as $260. Henry Ford called it “the universal car” because it was a low-cost, reliable vehicle that could travel the poor roads of the era.
And with a little more work, Canandaigua’s Model T could possibly travel the roads of Canandaigua, too. To get it ready for the stage, students sanded the entire vehicle and then sent it to the school’s operations center, where building maintenance worker Fred Barnhardt was given the task of painting it. He gave it a fresh coat of shiny black paint, and a carpenter with the school district worked at the interior. Barnhardt has been revamping cars for most of his life, but this was his first Model T.
“It was kind of hard to see it go,” he said. “With a little more time and a little more money, that car could drive down the road again.”
The engine turns over, but the hole in the gas tank prevents it from hitting the road. Students push it on stage, and sometimes it even rolls on its own.
The car appears four times in the show, including a song about Henry Ford — a scene in which the main character uses it to win the love of a woman, and another when the same character is confronted by bigots who make him stop to pay a toll for a non-toll road. They destroy his car in the script, but Schauman said his actors would “just pretend.” With a price tag of $4,600 after repairs, it’s too expensive of a prop to be wrecked.
“I’m hoping someone will consider it for a new home,” he said. “The car is in amazingly good shape.”
The money for the car came from ticket sales and the theater department budget. Other repairs were donated by Trombley Tire & Auto and Dobbs Sunoco.
It isn’t perfect. Student actors admitted that sometimes the door doesn’t open during a scene, so they have to jump in. Still, freshman Abby Rice said the car helps her get into an early-1900s kind of mood.
“It’s actually from that time period, so it kind of gets you in that state of mind,” she said.
The Canandaigua Academy Players will perform “Ragtime” on March 7, 8, 9, 14, and 15 at 7:30 p.m., with March 9 and 15 matinees at 2 p.m. in the Academy auditorium.
Contact Stephanie Bergeron at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.