Q & A with cast members
On Wednesday, April 12th, over 2,000 students, teachers, and school board members of the San Francisco Unified School District gathered at the SHN Orpheum Theatre to conclude their participation in the Hamilton Education Program, launched in 2015 by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. This performance marked the second of four #EduHam events planned for Bay Area youth. This program is also taking place with local public schools in Chicago and New York City. Over the past several weeks, more than 8,500 Bay Area high school students have been studying American history and the story of the Founding Fathers through a special integrated curriculum provided by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, consisting of primary source documents, video interviews and clips of the show, and sample lesson plans for teachers.
In addition to the classroom experience, students were tasked with creating original works of art based on the core themes of the #EduHam curriculum, and schools could select a student or student group to perform on the SHN Orpheum stage for their peers. Student performances ranged from a scene between John Laurens and his father meeting in Heaven and confronting Laurens’ queerness, to a rap battle between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in the style of a good old-fashioned diss track, complete with original music and choreography. Other students performed spoken-word poetry that centered around the immigrant experience and the current political climate of the United States, relating back to one of the central themes of Hamilton: “Immigrants—we get the job done!”
From left to right: Alan Tsui, Nathan Lam, and Mateo Langston.
After the student performances ended, schools watched as their pre-submitted questions were answered as emcee Emmy Ramper-Lampman (Angelica Schuyler) facilitated a Q&A session with Hamilton cast members, including Joshua Henry (Aaron Burr) and Solea Pfeiffer (Elizabeth Schuyler). Questions ranged from how the actors prepared for shows and dealt with stagefright, to what performing a show about the Founding Fathers means for a person of color. After the show, students were treated to a matinee performance of Hamilton to conclude their participation in the #EduHam.
I had the opportunity to sit down with three juniors from Galileo High School who performed an original scene and rap based on the Olive Branch Petition and the Declaration of Independence: Mateo Langston, Nathan Lam, and Alan Tsui.
“Schools, I feel, need to do more of this,” Lam remarked when asked about his experiences with the curriculum program. Langston added that access to primary sources through the Gilder Lehrman website was instrumental in helping the trio create their piece, especially having access to the Olive Branch Petition, the Declaration of Independence, and their historical contexts. I also discovered that this performance was the very first formal theater experience these students have had–and that the SHN Orpheum stage was their first time performing in front of an audience. They described the experience as “exhilarating,” “surprisingly easy,” and “so cool.”
When asked about their plans for the future, all three students expressed interest in exploring theater to a greater extent later in life, whether it be through extracurricular activities or as an area of study in college.
“…I wanted to major in computer science, or math, or a logic-based major, but after this I realized that life is much more than logic and one-plus-one mathematics, it’s like, there is something more,” Tsui remarked. “There is something that you could play with, it can make you something more than a robot, that makes you human, such emotions to be alive. This opportunity gave me a chance to realize that to be alive is much more than doing something normal and regular.”
Overall, the day was a resounding success. The performances created by the students exhibited an excitement, passion, and potential that is often lost upon observing seasoned and professional performances. They were hilarious, tentative, full of risk-taking and wonder and humility–all while staying true to both the central themes of Hamilton and to the mantras of the Founding Fathers.