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Reflecting on the Tonys

This time last week I was an emotional mess. It was midday Monday 13 June 2016 and I had spent the morning squealing, cheering, and crying my way through the Tonys with my sister and my mother. My mum has Mondays off and my sister and I had booked the day off work so that we could watch them as a family. It was an important morning for a small Western Australian family.

As I say, I was an emotional mess. But it was the most positive, passionate, inspired mess I have ever been. And I have James Corden and Lin-Manuel Miranda to thank for that indescribable feeling. With some serious help from my sister.

I have been completely and utterly lost twice in my life.

The first time was at the end of year 12. I was finishing up 12 years of education and I had absolutely no idea what was next. I quite enjoyed English, I quite enjoyed history, and I really enjoyed the structure that school provided and the fact that I got to be surrounded by my friends every day. This had become increasingly important to me in high school as I battled self-harm and anorexia, things that still impact my daily life.

Exams were finished, the deadline for getting university applications in had passed – and I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. This seems a completely normal situation now, but at the time it was terrifying. I’d had it drilled into me for the last 12 years that I needed to know exactly who I was, where I was going, and have a 5-point-10-year plan of how I was going to make it happen. Everyone else seemed relatively sure of themselves. I was just glad I’d made it to the end of high school. I’d destroyed so much of myself over the last 5 years that I didn’t have anything left.

No direction, no motivation, no sense of who I was. Then The History Boys found me.

Mum and I rented it one night on a vague recollection she had of it being a good film. This film and these boys changed everything for me.

I saw this group of young kids who had so much joy and passion for learning and for life, and for HISTORY. I had always been quite interested in war history, but this film lit a fire inside me. The determination, the pure, unadulterated and unapologetic enthusiasm these boys had for the acquisition and appreciation of knowledge spoke to me on such a fundamental level. Not to mention the pure, calculated silliness.

This was who I wanted to be. This was who I WAS, and had forgotten. Every single thing these people said resonated with me with absolute pitch-perfection.

I applied for the history course at the University of Western Australia – late fees and all -, I started reading all the non-fiction I could get my hands on, my mum and I booked a holiday to England and France to explore museums and Normandy and streets older than the British colonization of our country.

I had found it – the thing that I was meant to do, the person I had always wanted to be but had always sort of danced around. And I have eight fantastic boys to thank for that, not least of all Mr James Corden who was the familiar face that intrigued me enough to go with mum’s really very vague recommendation and actually watch The History Boys.

I live and breathe history because of those boys and that film, I’m at university because of them, I am who I am because of them. I wish I’d had the opportunity to see the play, but I can’t ask for much more, they have given me so much already.

The second time I was completely lost was exactly this time last year.

I was half-way through my third year as a history major at UWA after having first taken a gap year. I was 21 years old. I was experiencing the worst depression of my life.

I hadn’t been to work in weeks and I’d had to get significant extensions on all of my final assignments because my days literally consisted of lying in bed either crying or sleeping. Everything was exhausting, I felt nothing, and I’d lost joy for absolutely everything. In my most challenging times I had always had history, always had my love of going to uni and learning something new. If I was having a particularly rough time I would watch The History Boys and be reminded of that feeling of joy and wonder. But this time I had none of that. I’d stopped going to classes and I couldn’t even muster up the energy to watch a movie.

I did, however, have my big sister Elizabeth (Bibs, Lib, Libby, Titi, however the mood took me). We’ve always been extremely close. She’d always pull through for me, and this time was no different.

When I was literally suicidal because I was so tired, and so worried about all my responsibilities that I was ignoring, so worried about people always asking how I was and my debilitating need to please them before taking care of myself, so tempted to just make everything and everyone stop and be quiet…Bibs was ALWAYS there. She knew better. She would come by with fun facts and news, funny stuff from Tumblr, a cool song she’d heard, or a drawing she’d done or something. Lately she’d been talking a lot about a tv show called Turn. It sounded cool but I didn’t have the energy to get excited about the fact that my sister was finally interested in history. But thanks to Turn she’d also started seeing this interesting-looking musical called Hamilton: An American Musical that had amazing costumes and an intriguing and gorgeous cast. Again, I was not in a place to be excited for how far down the history rabbit-hole she was starting to fall, but I continued to hold that history-nerd torch deep, deep inside me.

I managed to get through the mid-year break, started seeing a therapist and taking anti-depressants. I had so, SO far to go. But I knew that here, on this earth, with people like my sister and my History Boys, was where I wanted to be.

I started engaging more with my sister’s new-found interest in history. I’d started watching Turn with her. When the full cast recording of Hamilton came out for free in September she would play me a couple of Act I highlights. It was pretty awesome stuff. Having made the decision to go back to uni for second semester rather than defer, I didn’t really have the time to sit down and properly, actively listen to 2 hours and 40 minutes of soundtrack yet.

On October 10 I gave in and straight-up bought the album anyway. I was probably procrastinating, let’s be honest. But I listened to it all the way through. It only took a single listen.

In a matter of days we had booked tickets to see Hamilton on December 8 2015, and we had booked plane tickets to go to New York fucking City.

I was enjoying my course work, I was getting my assignments done on time, I had a trip to NYC with my sister to look forward to, I had Hamilton to look forward to.

I was finding myself again. And this time, my sister was more a part of it than ever before. Hamilton WAS us. It was history and it was theatre (as well as so, so many other things, obviously). It was this beautiful, magical, breath-taking, game-changing synthesis that brought us even closer than before. And ask anyone who knows us, we were already ANNOYINGLY close.

So on December 8 2015 we saw Hamilton.

And on December 12 2015 we saw Hamilton again, by way of some amazing right-place-right-time kind of magic.

And on December 15 at the stage door Chris Jackson - whose strong and inherently GOOD George Washington routinely brings me to tears - was kind enough to write out “history has its eyes on you” for me.  

It was a line that had immediately spoken to me. I just want to learn as much as I can, and I want to put as much positivity, love, knowledge, and joy back into the world as I have been lucky enough to receive by way of history, my family, and the two most important pieces of art in my entire life – The History Boys and Hamilton. It felt right.

And on December 16 I got it tattooed on my right forearm. That night we went back to the stage door to thank everyone again, and I showed Chris the finished product. He took a picture of me on his phone and gave me one of the best hugs I have ever received in my life. SO snuggly. That man exudes love and just…genuine-ness. Everyone had been so kind, so gracious, so patient, and this was the absolute best way to finish off our trip. Lib was flying home the next day, and I was flying to Vancouver to visit my best friend. I had meant to go in the middle of the year but wasn’t well enough. It’s funny how the stars just align sometimes, huh?

So to be sitting on our little couch in Perth, Western Australia last Monday morning and see Hamilton getting that amount of love and respect from everyone in that room and around the world, at an awards show hosted by James Corden who opened WITH the amazing cast of Hamilton, singing THAT opening number?

It emotionally rocked me in the best, most positive and inspiring way possible.

I cannot believe that the last 12 months has happened to me, I cannot believe what I have been lucky (and unlucky) enough to have felt and seen and done.

But mostly, I cannot thank these beautiful people enough.

So to my History Boys, to James, thank you for showing me my path when I had forgotten who I was.

To Lin and Chris and the entire cast and crew of Hamilton, thank you for literally giving me a reason to get out of bed, rejoin life, and rediscover what it feels like to be alive and to be filled with love and passion and life.

And to Elizabeth, thank you for absolutely everything. I am here because of you.

Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.