student matinee

so in the stage version of shakespeare in love, there’s an attempted rape. it’s very brief and not graphic, but it’s definitely shocking.

we had a student matinee today. i definitely find it odd that we’re having student matinees of a play based on a rated r movie, but whatever.

so after the attempted rape scene, the guy who plays wessex walked out and asked if we were giving out trigger warnings and if not, could we do something, because he noticed some very visceral reactions

and i agreed with him. as an adult woman, i was stunned and horrified the first time i saw that scene. i can only imagine what it was like for teenagers. especially considering that in a room of 500 high schoolers…well, you know that some of them had firsthand reasons to be upset.

the member of education we spoke to was so. blase about it. just acted like he was overreacting. and i’m honestly really mad about it. i know there’s a lot of controversy about trigger warnings in public spaces and academia but like goddamn, we act like we’re such a great theater and our education program is the best in the midwest and then we invite these kids to our shows and don’t warn them about this shit?

i’m fucking glad they didn’t hire me jesus christ.

We had our first [student matinee] and I was sick, sick as a dog. I was throwing up…I was sick and lying in bed, and I was like, ‘Well, I can either be sick here, or be sick watching these kids.’ So I got up, I called a lift, and I took my ass to the theater. And I was so inspired by those kids that I did both shows that day. Like, actually walking offstage and vomiting in between things. After seeing the sort of bravery and heart that those kids put into their performances…I was like, 'Oh, you not going to go onstage cause you feel a little SICK?’
—  Daveed Diggs on Hamilton student matinees (source)

It’s sort of ridiculous that it has taken so long for a musical that honors rap music appropriately to come to Broadway. Musicals in the 1920s and 1930s played jazz music. It is odd that musicals in the later part of the 2010s still sound like musicals from the 1960s.

We get comments from older people like, “I understood every single word,” and they are so amazed by that. I think it’s because they were forced to sit and listen to it as opposed to hearing it as noise going by.

It doesn’t feel like [playing to stereotypes] because it’s a musical and it feels the way a musical should feel. It’s big, it’s extravagant, it’s historic—and at the end of the day the music is really good. Nothing feels forced. There are flashy rap moments and incredible sing-song moments.

Every audience is great, but the student matinees where you get to look out and see a sea full of black students, those are the best shows. Those are the shows where you feel you are performing for your family.

“‘Hamilton’ is about the words.” So spoke Christopher Jackson, who portrays George Washington in the hit Broadway musical, as he welcomed 1,300 high schoolers to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Wednesday for the first in a series of matinee performances set aside for New York City students from low-income areas.


The students attending the matinee, some of whom shared the stage to perform their own work, engaged with an incredibly wordy production—about 20,000 words in all, including some challenging vocabulary items.


The playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars as Alexander Hamilton, skillfully weaves together words both high and low. Hamilton describes himself to his equally quick-witted sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler as a “polymath,” a person with great learning in many fields (from Greek words meaning “much” and “learn”). But he follows that up with an earthier self-description: “a pain in the ass.”


In one particularly rapid-fire number, “Guns and Ships,” the Marquis de Lafayette, played by Daveed Diggs, describes Hamilton as “ingenuitive,” a peculiar adjective form of “ingenuity” (meaning “inventive skill”) that is difficult to track down in any dictionary. In an interview, Mr. Miranda said that he and his collaborators argued over whether it was really a word, but they decided to let this ingenuitive creation stand.


Hamilton’s foes have less kind words for him. Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) calls him “protean,” or ever-changing, after the shape-shifting Greek sea god Proteus. James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan) says Burr “obfuscates,” from a Latin root meaning “to darken.”


The vocabulary flies thick and fast in cabinet confrontations between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson (also portrayed by Mr. Diggs), performed in the style of rap battles. In one, Hamilton argues that centralizing debt would be a “financial diuretic.” “Diuretic,” from a Greek root meaning “prompting urine,” serves as a peculiar bodily metaphor, suggesting the debt plan would encourage capital flows.


Alexander’s brash young son Philip Hamilton, played by Anthony Ramos, boasts that “the scholars say I got the same virtuosity and brains as my pops.” “Virtuosity” originally referred to such “manly” virtues as courage and vigor, but it was later influenced by the Italian word “virtuoso,” meaning someone who is technically proficient in the arts.

‘Hamilton’ Tickets for Students and Wisdom From Its Creator (WSJ) [x]:

Mr. Miranda spent a half-hour with about 40 students at Bronx Theatre High School. On April 13, they will be among the first of 20,000 New York City public-school students given access to $10 ‘Hamilton’ tickets through a nearly $1.5 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Tickets, which are hard to come by at face value, went to high schools with concentrations of poor students.

The first student matinee next week will be one of the year’s high points for performers, said Mr. Miranda. “There’s no rap battle like a rap battle for 1,300 11th-graders.”

Asked how he overcame self-doubt, he said being nervous and uncertain were essential parts of daily life for an artist.

“That’s rocket fuel, and rocket fuel is very dangerous,” Mr. Miranda said. “It can blow up your ship if you don’t channel it right. If you channel it right, that energy is going to get you through.’’

At times joking and switching into Spanish, he offered encouragement and advice. He said to get a job with flexible hours to pay the rent while you pursue your passion—he used to be a substitute teacher and “energizer” to get guests dancing at bar mitzvahs.

Get good grades so you are eligible to be in school plays. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

“I mess up every night,” he said. “There’s just too many words in the show.”

[…]

Students chosen from 12 schools attending the matinee next week will perform their own work on the “Hamilton” stage before the show starts.

Several teenagers said writing their own pieces helped them delve deeper into the period.Russell Alston, a 17-year-old junior, wrote a poem from the perspective of a son of Thomas Jefferson, who many historians believe had children with a slave.

“I’m a bastard, might as well be an orphan,” Mr. Alston said in reciting his poem, which echoed “Hamilton” lyrics. “We were a secret that might not be kept, because the five-cent founding father didn’t want to proudly be my father.”

Natalie Jimenez, a 17-year-old senior, wrote a scene about the election of 1800, showing how voters focused more on the politicians’ name-calling than their policies.

“It reminds me of the election we’re having right now,” she said. “History repeats itself. It brought that meaning to a whole new level.”

Hamilton Through the Lens of Language (Slate) [x]:

“My earliest conversations with Lin really revolved around language,” Chernow told me. Miranda viewed Hamilton’s life as a “classic hip-hop narrative”: He was like a rapper who used the power of words to lift his way out of poverty and obscurity and into fame. Miranda “saw Hamilton’s rise as inseparable from his command of language,” Chernow said. Hamilton, the “bastard orphan” immigrant from St. Croix, rose to power on the strength of his words, but his verbal ingenuity was a double-edged sword that also precipitated his downfall.

While Chernow did not initially appreciate how the idiom of hip-hop could be a vehicle for Hamilton’s story, Miranda set about educating him as he had done for Sondheim. Chernow learned two things right away. First, “with hip-hop, you can pack an enormous amount of information into the lyrics,” he said. And second, hip-hop’s reliance on rhyme, both rhymed endings and internal rhymes, allows for all manner of wordplay to delight audiences. Chernow realized that what Miranda was constructing was no less than a return to the verse dramas of an earlier age, when people would “sit all evening listening to rhymed couplets and quatrains,” immersed in the pleasure of language.

Chernow recalls Miranda sitting on the couch, snapping his fingers and performing the first fruits of his labor, a rap he called “The Hamilton Mixtape,” which with a few changes would become the opening number of the show. “It was the most extraordinary thing I had ever heard,” Chernow said. “He was creating a unique idiom that was a blend of standard 18th-century speech and 21st-century slang.”

Chernow was struck immediately by the heightened language in the first stanza introducing Hamilton’s story: “by providence, impoverished, in squalor.” And then the second stanza takes a turn for the colloquial, with the “ten-dollar founding father without a father, who got a lot farther by working a lot harder.” “It’s delightful how the language keeps shifting back and forth,” Chernow remarked.

When Miranda unveiled “The Hamilton Mixtape” at the White House Poetry Jam in 2009, he put Hamilton’s linguistic derring-do front and center. “I think he embodies the word’s ability to make a difference,” he said by way of introduction. Of course, Miranda’s own words would prove equally captivating.

[…]

Seller hoped that Hamilton could serve as a linguistic bridge to reach a diverse audience of young people. “It’s a marvelous barrier breaker, because the language of the play gives us the information we want and need,” he said, adding that it gives students a foundation that allows them to go back to primary sources without being intimidated by antiquated verbiage.

In the lead-up to the first student matinee last month, I got to spend time with teachers and students at Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton High School, one of the 12 participating schools. (And no, they weren’t selected simply because of their Hamiltonian name.) Using the Gilder Lehrman curriculum, students had come up with performance pieces based on historical figures, fusing linguistic styles on the model of Hamilton but applying their own idiosyncratic stamp.

One Advanced Placement U.S. History student, Hannah Almontaser, delivered a rap as King George III with Kanye-like swagger. Three of her classmates added a dose of Beyoncé to their “Women Formation,” in which they portrayed Abigail Adams, the black poet Phillis Wheatley, and Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, as proto-feminists.*

At the matinee, 160 students from Fort Hamilton joined with more than 1,000 others from around the city, and the excitement was palpable. Chernow was in attendance and got something of the rock-star treatment from students who asked him to sign their programs, T-shirts, and Hamiltomes.

Afterward, Chernow marveled at how enthusiastically the students engaged with the show and its language. “It was absolutely fascinating to watch what the students responded to,” he said, especially the humor, the romance, and of course the rap battles. The wordiness was hardly an impediment, he noted. “It’s a very sophisticated and erudite show, but I felt they were picking up everything. It didn’t go over the heads.” A vital link had been forged through the power of language: Words can indeed make a difference.

(/ .□.)\ ︵╰(゜Д゜)╯︵ /(.□. \)

Mr. Seller, who plans to announce the student program at a news conference Tuesday, has agreed to sell tickets to the foundation for $70 each — about half the $139 current average ticket price for the show. The foundation, in turn, will make tickets available to students for $10 each — the denomination that has Hamilton’s face on it — because school officials have advised that paying a nominal admissions fee encourages students to take such activities more seriously.

Mr. Seller said that about 17,000 students would attend student-only Wednesday matinees, supplemented by educational programming at the theater the same morning. Another 3,000 would join regular ticket-buyers at other Wednesday matinees, with the educational component presented in their classrooms. He said the student performances would earn back their cost, but would not make a profit. […]

The curriculum will be put together by the nonprofit Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which plans to create a website with copies of the primary documents that undergird the show’s book and lyrics, and teaching materials about Hamilton and the founding fathers.

The institute’s executive director, Lesley S. Herrmann, said the initial round of students would be drawn from advanced placement history classes at Title 1 schools — those where a high percentage of students qualify for free or reduced lunches — in all five boroughs. She said the students would be invited to create their own artistic responses to Hamilton’s life, and the best ones would be performed for other students.

“The first time I saw the show, I was lamenting that the audience was all your usual theatergoers,” said Ms. Herrmann, who has seen “Hamilton” three times. She said she would count the project as a success “if we’ve inspired a young generation to take history seriously, to get personally involved in it, and someday to serve the country as Hamilton did.”

Broadway itself, however, is still caught in the cliffhanger of another economic story line — that of an art form trying to move into the future without being neutralized by commercial interests.


This is why the excitement over “Hamilton” is so vital. The show has the potential to be a game-changer, lighting a path that leads from diversity on the stage to diversity in the audience.


Sure, the news that the price of premium tickets was being jacked up to $849 as a way of dealing with the skyrocketing scalper market only solidified the sense that Broadway is the plaything of the ultra-rich. But “Hamilton” makes available $10 tickets for each performance through a lottery. And underway is a program, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and the show’s producers, to bring 20,000 New York City high school students to matinees.


This is a money-printing juggernaut with a conscience — one that recognizes that the cultivation of a new generation of theatergoers must be part of the producing vision if Broadway is to survive as something more than a fat-cat commodity.


“Hamilton” has received an avalanche of press and I’ll admit that I’m nearly tapped out of praise. But it’s inspiring to see artistic innovation not only validated by the Tonys but embraced on such a popular scale.


Broadway has become reliant on tourism, but tourists don’t flock to New York for generic glitz and empty spectacle. They want what the theater can uniquely provide — a public confrontation with the cultural pulse, the gathering of marginal voices into a mainstream choir, virtuosity marshaled for a greater purpose.


Old hat is a losing business model, the mercenary pursuit of a dwindling tribe. Yes, even the classics need to be served with fresh inspiration, as the innovative productions of Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” and “The Crucible” attest. Not only did van Hove win for his direction of “A View From the Bridge” but this daring production — a rejuvenating feat of deconstruction  — won for best revival.  


A healthy art form shouldn’t have to rely on blockbusters. The movie business’ tent-pole strategy might work for studio shareholders, but it has driven serious adult drama to the small screen. Similarly, the zombie march of jukebox musicals and star vehicles threatened to banish more ambitious theatrical pursuits from Broadway.


Grand successes like “Hamilton” prove that art and commerce can join hands for their mutual benefit. More important, this once-in-a-generation hit reminds us that Broadway thrives when its soul is attended to.


Next year’s Tonys will not likely include anything of the magnitude of “Hamilton,” but Broadway’s future is brighter for its path-breaking example. And on a night when the country was reeling from the shock of what happened in Orlando, the values embodied by this musical were especially worthy of salute.

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Daveed Diggs discusses student matinees live on AOL BUILD at the AOL BUILD HQ in NYC.