Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspired to make Hamilton, the musical, after reading Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, a biography about one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Since its release, the musical has gained mass popularity, bringing generations of people together to experience history through a mixture of rap and classical lyrics about various points in Hamilton's (and the then-thirteen colonies') history.
In an effort to make sure everyone gets to see the musical and to see how "history is happening," the Rockefeller Foundation, the New York Department of Education, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History are sponsoring the #EduHam initiative. This means that schools under Title 1 will be able to see the musical performed in its entirety for just $10 a ticket. The initiative started with a matinee performance this Wednesday (April 6, 2016) and was attended by 140 students from Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica, Queens.
"Title 1 schools have students that come from low-income houses or the poverty level," said Moses Ojeda, Edison's principal. "It's [determined] based on lunch forms, where you can see what the income is for parents. Based on the number of lunch forms you get that are below that income line, you become a Title 1 school and you get additional funding because they know students that come from that background need extra support."
Carmen Fariña, Schools Chancellor, chose Edison High not only because of its low-income factor, but also its status as a "career and technical education school aimed at not only preparing students to meet high academic standards."
Wednesday's matinee performance was attended by 1,300 students from several Title 1 schools, "representing the different types of schools and school model that exist."
But the schools did more than just take their kids out of school to see a musical. In preparation for what they were about to see, the teachers incorporated Miranda's own process into their curriculum, asking students to write their own raps, songs, and verses of poetry based on historical sources. Students could even choose a "Hamilton-adjacent historical event."
One piece was chosen from each school to be performed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
"We've worked on that in class," says Brett Clark, an English teacher at Edison and a liaison for the Hamilton trip. "The students were given Samuel Seaberry's document [Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress] and Alexander Hamilton's document [A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress] and examined how that was translated into the song "Farmer Refuted" and became something artistic while maintaining historical integrity. Then the students had to create their own."
I wonder if someone wrote something about the letters between Elizabeth Schyler and Hamilton? Or England's perspective, as we only get two songs from the king?
Finding volunteers to attend the Hamilton event was hard at first. Principal Ojeda had to research the music his students listened to, and ended up playing "Aaron Burr, Sir" and "Cabinet Battle #1" to get their attention. It worked, and the seats were filled in no time!
One student, Zaviel Young, was so moved by the songs and Ojeda's assembly that he gave up his chance to play baseball against Edison's rival team, Robert Goddard High.
"I was blown away by how eloquently [it was written]," says Young. "I didn't think a Broadway musical could be that good." His project, a rap about how Thomas Payne came to write Common Sense, was selected for performance at the Rodgers. It was inspired by a curious question. "I thought of Hamilton and the whole message of getting the revolution started, and I figured a big kicker for that was Thomas Paine. I wrote a scene where he's in an office talking to himself, coming up with the idea of Common Sense."
That spark of inspiration and drive is exactly what the Hamilton team is trying to get going. With the music industry's growing audience, Miranda and the other members of #TeamHam wanted to bring the love of learning to the next generation in a way that would get them excited and leave a "lasting impact."
"This show is about finding your voice and expressing your voice, and the reality is, to have a group of young men and women coming there at that age, who are working on a curriculum designed to inspire them, that's where the lasting impact really happens."
The #EduHam initiative will eventually host over 20,000 students from across New York City. For those students who don't get to see Hamilton, teachers like Edison High's Brett Clark are working to bring their Hamilton lesson plan into other Title 1 classrooms.
"Part three of the [English] Regents is an essay where you have to talk about writing strategies," she notes. "Each day, we have a differentHamilton quote of the day where they have to identify the rhetorical devices. We pulled out twelve in a line from "Burn": 'You and your words flooded my senses/your sentences left me defenseless/you built me palaces out of paragraphs/you built cathedrals.' We had imagery, assonance, consonance, anaphora, and metaphor. It's a way to make Regents prep a lot less boring. And they're liking it."
Read about the full initiative on TheatreMania, and keep your eyes and ears open for the next Hamilton performance!