The Broadway musical, Hamilton, has made history, in no small part, by making history so much fun. With its multiracial casting, and its message of success in America being possible for anyone willing to work hard enough for it, Hamilton has engaged the broadest socioeconomic and racially diverse audience of any musical in history.
As an important part of their outreach, Hamilton on Broadway has created an educational opportunity tied to the marketing of a matinee performance. As part of an in-school study program, devised by the Glider Lehrman Institute for American History, called the Hamilton Education Program (HEP). The program was launched by the Institute in 2016 combining an in-class curriculum for high school students studying Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Era, built around the experience of also studying the Hamilton musical. As a culmination of their studies, students are create and perform their own Hamilton related songs, scenes, rap and poetry in a pre-show event the morning of the show, prior to attending a matinee performance. The program was initially funded by a $1.46M grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. On the basis of the success of the program in NYC, the Rockefeller Foundation committed another $6M to a national expansion. So just like Hamilton the musical, you can look for the Hamilton Education Program to be coming soon to a theater near you.
At ten o’clock in the morning on November 14, 1300 students from 17 local high schools swarmed the Richard Rogers Theater. Students from a dozen of the schools performed their own work. Each school was there to cheer for their own “team”, but graciously supported the effort of every young performer who took to the Hamilton stage. Most of the students wrote their own rapping monologue or scene.
One student with a particularly lovely voice, Ginger Sakarya, gave the only traditional musical performance with her original song about the Boston massacre. Some of the young people were more comfortable with their moment in the spotlight on a Broadway stage than others. But all were passionate about being there. Even the more gun shy among them was not throwing away his or her shot.
Following a break for lunch, the students were treated to a matinee of Hamilton, with the superb Michael Luwoye as the new Alexander Hamilton. Needless to say, the crowd responded enthusiastically.
The importance of this program for engaging students in the study of history, encouraging their self-expression, and empowering their belief in themselves are reasons enough to cheer its success. But Broadway and its touring productions commonly known as “the Road” have a broader reason to cheer. For as long as I’ve been aware of it, the key demographic of the typical Broadway theater goer has been a middle aged white woman with income of $200,000 per year plus. But as Broadway productions of recent years have offered more stories tailored to the direct expression of younger people and their contemporary life experiences, including notably Dear Evan Hansen and the viral phenomenon of Be More Chill, Broadway audiences are, for the first time, growing younger and more diverse in a demonstrable way. By encouraging the study of the past linked to its interpretation by theater artists, Hamilton is also building Broadway’s future.