Musical Theatre and American History: The Hamilton Education Program

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to see Hamilton in Chicago, Illinois (spoiler alert: it was INCREDIBLE). I’ve been looking forward to the show ever since I purchased the tickets in early January; every few weeks from that point onward, I have been periodically checking up on Hamilton-related news online. During one of these online searches, I stumbled upon a February 2017 article titled “A packed ‘Hamilton’ matinee — all Chicago Public School students and their teachers.”

Intrigued by the title and the knowledge that Hamilton tickets are not exactly cheap, I dug deeper into the story. What I found was the existence of the delightful Hamilton Education Program.

So, what exactly is the Hamilton Education Program? As the program’s webpage explains:

“In October 2015, Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Rockefeller Foundation, NYC Department of Education, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute announced an educational partnership that will provide 20,000 NYC Title I public school students with the opportunity to see Hamilton on Broadway and will integrate the show into classroom studies. This educational initiative, running from 2016 to 2017, is made possible through a $1.46 million grant by The Rockefeller Foundation to the Gilder Lehrman Institute.”

What really interested me was how the program integrates the show into classroom studies. This experience is so much more than a field trip: before the class even travels to the matinee, they learn in-depth about both the chunk of American history that surrounds Hamilton and how Lin-Manuel Miranda utilized primary sources from the era to create the show itself. Even more exciting, students are given the tools (through an exclusive student website that features extensive Hamilton-related primary sources) to research him further and to create their own performance pieces. Before the matinees, students are encouraged to perform their original pieces on stage. The Gilder Lehrman Institute says it best: “This innovative program integrating history and performing arts will allow teachers to bring American history to the classroom in a new way and help students find their own connections to the Founding Era.”

The video above is a snippet of the kind of creative performances student participants in the Hamilton Education Program can create and showcase. How cool is this?

What about the cost? Hamilton Chicago ticket prices are steep – Broadway ticket prices are outrageous. For the average public school student, watching a musical like Hamilton is an incredibly costly (and perhaps unrealistic) dream. In an interview with the New York Times, Lin-Manuel Miranda explains one of his main priorities as the show picked up more traction became how to make the play more accessible to young people. Thanks to the generous Rockefeller Foundation grant given to the program, students can watch the very play that many theatre-goers are willing to pay thousands of dollars to go watch for essentially the price of a movie ticket ($10).

As the New York Times article I referenced a little earlier reveals, the Hamilton Education Program is the “largest for a single production and the first to so fully involve the school district.”

I am amazed by the Hamilton Education Program and its dedication towards making both the theatre and education accessible to public school students in a way it has never been before. Although I can’t expect the next slew of wildly successful Broadway musicals to be fully applicable to the classroom, I hope that this program and its message will be further replicated in the future through other creative mediums – such as movies.

 

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