The hit Broadway musical, Hamilton, has been sweeping the nation. With its costly tickets nearly on stand by, many are left praying that one day they will be able to live out their dreams and attend this show. On December 11, fifty EHHS juniors were graced with the opportunity to attend the musical in New York City, all thanks to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
The Chance of a Lifetime
The Hamilton Education Program is a nationwide initiative with the aim of promoting the study of American history. In collaboration with The Rockefeller Foundation, Gilder Lehrman offers eligible high schools the chance to integrate the Founding Era into their curriculum and view Hamilton in a select city in the US. Having not received acceptance the first go around, organizers and EHPS instructional leaders Ms. Lisa Veleas and Mr. Joseph Marangell were ecstatic to have finally been approved for this opportunity this year! Ms. Veleas exclaimed, “I was so excited to have so many kids who have never seen a Broadway show have this be the first show that they saw. I think there’s something for everyone in it and it’s the type of show that can really inspire kids to love theatre.”
A lot of hard work and preparation took place beforehand in order to bring this trip to life. Ms. Veleas and Mr. Marangell worked closely with EHPS higher-ups to establish an official itinerary and budget. The superintendent and Board of Education greatly supported the idea and were even kind enough to cover the bus fare and ticket costs! In order to attend, students were required to submit an original ‘performance’ piece. Hamilton is one of the most innovative musicals to date, so in asking us to submit work about a document, person, or event from the Founding Era, the imaginations of many ran wild. From poems to skits, every piece expressed individuality and passion. These videos were then forwarded to the Gilder Lehrman Institute for review, and it was officially time to take on NYC!
EHHS Takes New York City
Less than ideal weather conditions on the morning of the trip definitely did not stop us from heading out on our adventure. While the weather may have been bitter, both students and staff were anything but sour. We arrived at Richard Rodgers Theatre at around 10:30 am, immediately greeted by the massive Hamilton marquee. After a quick photoshoot, we settled into our seats and prepared for the student performances.
Three lucky EHHS students were offered the opportunity to perform their work on the Hamilton stage! Bianca Apuzzo, Christy Le, and Krystal Luna put together an emotional poem about Eliza Schuyler that immediately caught the Institute’s eye. Krystal stated, “It was truly a dream come true since I have always wanted to perform on Broadway. It was such an honor to even be considered, let alone chosen to perform where so many icons once stood.” Amongst them were various other performers who displayed their creativity through rap songs, violin-playing, and slam poetry. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip; the amount of talent and support in the room was truly inspiring!
Next on the agenda was a Q & A session with the cast of Hamilton! Prior to the trip, all attendees were asked to submit a few questions they would like to see answered. While only a handful were addressed, it was very neat to be able to get the cast’s perspective on what a typical day on Broadway is like, what message the audience should take away from the show, etc. After a brief lunch, it was time to reconvene for the matinee performance!
One unique aspect of the trip was that the staff at the theatre treated us as though we were a true audience. While they had canceled the usual ticketed performance for that day, the show ran as if it were any other occasion. Ms. Veleas recalled, “The ushers they had available, everyone getting a playbill, the merchandise store being open… They really made it authentic to the experience you would have if you went to any other Broadway show at any other time.” With souvenirs in hand, we made our way back into the theatre. The view was amazing; EHHS was given central seating that made it easy to see just about everything! Soon, the lights dimmed and the voice of King George III filled the auditorium.
A Show to Remember
2 hours and 45 minutes of intense storytelling later, EHHS left Richard Rodgers Theatre with their jaws nearly dropped. Hamilton is truly one of a kind. The plot, choreography, scenery, and song lyrics all work together to create a brilliant experience for audiences. It is clear that playwright, Lin Manuel Miranda, strategically constructed this musical to appeal to everyone; the humor and emotion are two major qualities of the show that really resonate with audiences. Junior Tyler Vance, a Broadway enthusiast, exclaimed, “As an aspiring actor, watching others live out their dreams on a Broadway stage is something I really enjoy. The show was able to separate itself from other shows by using all genres of music and modern styles of dance.” Many of those who attended the show had a prior idea of the storyline, yet they still left the theatre astonished by its power. Longtime listener, Naiiya Patel, mentioned, “The visual part still blows me away because I never expected everyone to be performing that way. The music and the way they performed it was so different than I had imagined.” Whether you love American history, live for a catchy song, or simply need a good laugh, Hamilton is definitely a show to invest your time and money into seeing!
The “School” Where It Happens
This trip proved to be the perfect opportunity for us students to apply what we have learned in the classroom to the outside world. In particular, it helped open our eyes to the fact that these historical figures have fully developed lives outside of what the textbooks describe. The junior American Literature curriculum specifically focuses on the power of language in an emerging nation. Alexander Hamilton was one of many individuals in history who used words to convince people politically. Mrs. Veleas pointed out, “His use of language is so amazing. There are so many allusions and direct quotes from primary sources. It’s really what we try to teach kids about paying attention to every word, how important word choice is, and how you can construct your sentences in a powerful and engaging manner.” The show, of course, also directly relates to what is covered in U.S. history courses. Students enrolled in AP US History have just finished covering the Founding Era, including Hamilton’s role in the Bank of the United States. In general, this opportunity was incredibly beneficial to student learning. Since the trip, we have noticeably taken more active roles in discussions within the classroom. English teacher Ms. Leann Boisvert, who chaperoned the trip, noticed a ‘click’ in her students’ understanding almost immediately. She stated, “The spark that I saw and how engrossed all of our school was in the show itself was something I was not expecting. This really was a bridge for the arts. It helped open up a whole new world of creativity and thought in a lot of my students and that is something that has found its way into the classroom.” Not only did the trip have a great impact on student engagement, but it also opened many doors for what each of us might want to pursue in the future!
Overall, field trips are a great way to connect what we are learning in the classroom to what actually takes place in the outside world. Hamilton really brought history to life, and allowed so many of us to enter a realm we never knew existed! It is definitely worth noting just how significant the Hamilton program is in expanding the number of individuals who are able to be touched by this performance. English teacher Ms. Kari Collins stated, “Because tickets to Hamilton are quite expensive, audiences are usually quite wealthy and not very diverse. Thanks to the Gilder-Lehrman grant and the variety of schools that attended, it was fantastic being a part of such a diverse audience that could connect to the show in a different, powerful way.” (Collins). The New York trip was definitely one of the highlights of our high school experience. I hope that, if given the opportunity again, EHHS continues this trip with future classes, as it will definitely leave a positive mark on students for many years to come. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if you see anyone jamming out to Hamilton in the hallways!