I recently had the amazing experience of joining 1,300 NYC Public School students and teachers at a performance of HAMILTON on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. I hadn’t seen the show on Broadway; I had only seen it off-Broadway in its infancy days at the Public Theater so I was very much looking forward to see how it had morphed over the years (and then some, right?).
After having spent several weeks in their classrooms studying American history through a special integrated curriculum about Alexander Hamilton and the nation’s Founding Fathers, the students were chaperoned to the theater for a very special afternoon that included a Q&A with the cast. If that wasn’t special enough, a group of students in attendance performed an original work they created based on their classroom studies – songs, rap, poetry, scenes, and monologues in front of their peers. The pieces were profound – very much focused on diversity, equality/inequality, slavery, women’s rights. Each resonated as a sounding board very much honoring where we are today in our own history. It was reassuring to see that so many young people are rising up and using their platforms to sound off on how they feel about where we are, and where we are going.
As soon as I took my seat for the performance, I knew I was a part of something very special. I spoke to a young man named Moses from John E. Dwyer Technology Academy on how he felt about coming to the show and he said his aim was “o understand stories that weren’t told in our history books, the stories of people who aren’t represented and weren’t heard.” There were kids from ten schools from around NYC: from the Bronx Lab School to Democracy Prep Harlem High School to Lyons Community School to Pathways to Graduation. Many of the kids had never seen the show or been to a Broadway show, and it was their first time to ever be in a theater so there was an amazing vibe.
I had long heard about this educational experience for teens. HAMILTON producer Jeffrey Seller and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Rockefeller Foundation, the NYC Department of Education and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History came up with the concept and I have been waiting for other shows to take part. Apparently, MEAN GIRLS is embarking on a similar initiative. The Rockefeller Foundation provided an initial grant of $1.46 million that funded the educational partnership in New York City. After the resounding success of the partnership in New York, The Rockefeller Foundation committed an additional $6 million to the effort to support the national expansion of the program. The Rockefeller Foundation has a long history of supporting the arts and humanities, fueled by a belief that the cultivation of aesthetic sensibilities through literature, music and other fine arts is essential to the well-being of humanity. The HAMILTON Education Program underscores the Foundation’s commitment to nurturing the vitality of American cultural institutions and the role of the arts as a catalyst for social change.
Tickets for this educational partnership are available at $10 to students and teachers. What a special experience for them.
Disclosure: I was granted access to this event as a journalist and was covering this for another publication.