Broadway’s ‘Hamilton’ inspires, motivates NYC high school students
‘EduHam’ Program Teaches History through the Hottest Show in Town
I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot!
The mega-hit Broadway play “Hamilton” shines a spotlight on the American dream, where a scrappy, bastard orphan with relentless drive can become the head of the U.S. Treasury and transform the nation.
Tickets to the hottest show in town sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars. But on Wednesday, 1,300 Title 1 high school students from across New York City filled the Richard Rodgers Theatre for a performance that only cost them one “Hamilton” — $10.
For the vast majority of the students, it was their first time in a Broadway theater. Their raw, unbridled enthusiasm shook the rafters of the gilded show palace as they cheered one rap-infused show-stopper after another.
For many, the show was transformative — and the process had begun before they even got to the theater. As participants in the Hamilton Education Initiative (#EduHam), the students had been introduced to Alexander Hamilton’s history through an online curriculum created by the show’s producers and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.
As part of the program, they were challenged to create performance pieces in the same way that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical’s creator, composed his. On Wednesday before the musical, several students from each school presented their works onstage, followed by a Q & A with members of the cast of “Hamilton.”
Amara Clarke, who attends the UFT Charter High School in East New York, Brooklyn, was getting over her pre-performance jitters backstage when she told the Brooklyn Eagle she has been a fan of “Hamilton” for more than a year — even though she had never been to a live performance.
The opportunity to read her original poem, “Alexander Hamilton Poem,” on a Broadway stage before a packed house and see the actual performance was a dream come true.
“I’ve always been a fan of Hamilton ever since it came out, but it’s really expensive so I could never go,” she told the Eagle.
The U.S. history teacher at her school got her involved in the program, she said. “We had to write poems or rap songs so we could come. So I wrote a poem because one of my hobbies is poetry.” The poem is about Alexander Hamilton’s life and what happened to him. “I was nervous when I got here, I was shaking a lot. But I’m kind of relaxed now, so that’s good.”
The story of Hamilton’s life relates to what’s going on today, Clarke said.
“In politics, everybody’s always fighting. You got Hamilton against Thomas Jefferson just like Donald Trump is against everybody. There’s a lot of political issues going on.”
Besides the politics, the show is about “stuff in life, too,” she added. “Like marriages, love and the downside, like infidelity and stuff … They would understand how we feel, would understand what people today go through.”
Clarke and fellow Brooklynite Tahir Tate, who attends The Brooklyn Transition Center, brought down the house with their performances. Tate rapped “The Alexander Hamilton Song.”
Inspires and Motivates
Most of the students were juniors, a conscious choice made by the program’s directors because junior year is the time when important decisions about college and the future are being made by students.
Cast members Terrance Spencer, Sasha Hollinger, Roddy Kennedy and Raven Thomas answered questions from the audience.
The show, with its multi-racial cast and urban music, “tells the story of our founding fathers, being represented by how our country looks today,” Hollinger said. “I think being able to see other ethnicities being represented on stage, and being able to see yourself being represented on stage … makes it more relatable.”
The story of Hamilton’s passionately lived life, his interior reflection on the familiarity of death, his need to leave a legacy, and his determination to not “waste his shot” inspired and motivated both students and adults.
“I love that it inspires you guys to do anything. Whether that’s to live out your dream and do something connected with the story, whether it’s to go to college,” Hollinger said.
After one student performed for the first time before an audience at an earlier EduHam, she said, and he decided he wanted to pursue it further. “To go to college and sing as a real thing.
“And I love that. I love that what we get to do on stage can touch any or all of you, or just one of you in a way that makes you go for something you really want to do,” she said. “We’re looking for the thing that lights our soul on fire — how you can leave your mark in this world.”
With everything that’s been going on politically, Hollinger added, “I think the timing is right for this show to come on, and I think a lot of people connected to it in that way, too.”
Clarke agreed. “This is going to help young people get involved in history more,” she said. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what happened to Hamilton in his life. I know it’s a rap but this is what happened and that’s so cool.”