A Hamilton for Hamilton

In a decade-old interview for The New York Times, Martin McDonagh complained about theater and accessibility.  “It’s strange to be working in an art form that costs $100 to participate in,” he said.  If his subsequent career trajectory is any indication, he now feels more at home with the egalitarianism of film.

This issue surely cannot be lost on the creative team behind Hamilton, the blockbuster musical that celebrates American diversity but only opens its doors to our most wealthy citizens, residents, and visitors: on Ticketmaster, prices for an upcoming matinee range from $243 (rear mezzanine) to $857 (orchestra).  In the evening, that ceiling reaches nearly a thousand dollars.  A friend recently spotted Sean Spicer in the audience—surely not the type of ticketholder Lin Manuel-Miranda originally envisioned when writing the show.

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What a delight, then, that EduHam, an initiative from The Gilder Lehrman Institute and The Rockefeller Foundation, invites thousands of low-income high schoolers to attend Hamilton for $10.  The afternoon I came, 1300 kids—along with their teachers in traffic vests—laughed and hooted through the show after watching a handful of their peers perform their own historical scenes on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

One group had Franklin rapping, “Benjamin, I’m so ill, / That’s why my face on the $100 bill.”  Another had the chutzpah to tackle a scene depicted in the musical itself.  In “The Man Who Killed Hamilton,” students from William Cullen Bryant High School reimagined the infamous duel, with Hamilton singing, “I speak my mind and I’m poetic, / Even though my thoughts are unapologetic, / Preachin’ love and liberty, don’t you get it?”  Sheikh Muhtade, who moved to New York from Bangladesh a year ago and hopes to pursue a career in musical theater, gushed that he was able to sing on a Broadway stage before entering his first audition room.

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During the 2016-17 school year, EduHam reached 15,000 students in New York and the surrounding area, and they are committed to repeating these numbers in 2017-18.  For quite a few, the room where it happens is no longer restricted to the financial elite.

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Aaron Botwick

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