By GABRIELLA CRUZ-MARTÍNEZ
Almost 2,000 students and teachers from 18 Title I high schools across Chicago filled the Private Bank Theatre on May 23 to experience Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit “Hamilton” after participating in the production’s innovative Hamilton Education Program. Among the invited schools were local students from Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.
The nationwide program known as #eduHam is an educational partnership between Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller and creator Miranda, with the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute. The educational initiative, which began in 2016, allows high school students enrolled in Title I schools in New York City, Chicago and other selected cities the opportunity to experience Hamilton at a minimal cost as well as integrate the show into classroom studies.
The matinee on Wednesday was the fourth of 10 all-student matinees performances to be held in 2018 under the Hamilton Education Program, which is set to provide 20,000 Chicago high school students the opportunity to engage American history through an innovative curriculum about Alexander Hamilton and the nation’s other Founding Fathers. This is the third year that #eduHam has run in Chicago, and it plans to fulfill five years.
“The goal of the program is to make Hamilton and the American history of the founding era accessible to students that might not have an interest or an opportunity to see the play,” said Sasha Rolon Pereira, spokesperson of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. “Students get to engage history through the creative process of Lin-Manuel Miranda and see how these topics that their teachers are passionate about can bridge into the arts.”
Before attending the show, students learned how Miranda incorporated primary sources of his research from the era into the songs he wrote for the popular Broadway musical and use that knowledge to produce their own performance pieces as a final project, according to Pereira. The program, which bridges classroom learning with the stage in a hands-on curriculum provided by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, caps off with students getting the chance to attend the Hamilton performance.
“This is our second year attending the Hamilton musical,” said Veronica Jackson, a counselor at Hyde Park Academy High School. “We had around 120 students enrolled in the U.S. history class for the Hamilton curriculum. With the musical, students could relate to what they learned in class and finally see it on stage.” According to Jackson, students that attended the event from Hyde Park Academy included ninth through 11th graders.
Prior to seeing the performance, the students enjoyed a one-of-a-kind performance of original pieces created by their fellow classmates live on stage, which included rap, poetry, spoken word, monologues and original songs based on their classroom studies. Alexander Hamilton himself, played by Miguel Cervantes, moderated the entire program.
“We always have a lot of young ladies performing pieces about Abigail Adams and feminism in the founding era. We also get performances about Phillis Wheatley and other abolitionists of the time, and of course, Hamilton and Eliza,” said Pereira. “One of my favorite parts of the day is getting to hear what the students think and seeing how conscious they are of the world. Ultimately they are our future.”
Out of the 18 schools invited to the Hamilton performance, 12 got the opportunity to have their students perform pieces on stage. Southland College Prep High School had two students, Victoria Dean and Corinthia Effiok performed “A Letter to Thomas Jefferson”, a retelling of history that highlighted the movement of the abolitionists at the time through spoken word. “We wanted to tell the story that went untold,” said Effiok. “The musical has things that relate to the present and we wanted to do that as well.”
Tavien Bradley, from Lee High School performed an original rap based on the Burr vs. Hamilton duel from the show. After performing he said he could see someday himself on a Broadway stage.
Hyde Park Academy 10th grader Mekhia Hams said that, although her school didn’t perform on stage, the student performances were one of her favorite parts of the day.
The student performances were followed by a question and answer session with members from the Hamilton cast. When asked by Miguel Cervantes about advice he would have given himself as a high school student, he replied, “The work never stops, always try harder because there will always be someone out there doing more. You can do that too, just be patient.”
Tommar Wilson, who plays Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in the play said “It’s ok to make mistakes, just remember to stand up and try again.”
When Cervantes asked the crowd of young students if anyone was going to throw away their shot, students excitedly chanted, “I’m not throwing away my shot!”
Schools interested in participating in the Hamilton Education Program can visit https://www.gilderlehrman.org/ to register.