Thursday, February 26, 2015

When Their World Becomes My World

Me with Javier Muñoz (understudy for Alexander Hamilton) after the show.
I’m writing this post while sitting in Logan Airport. In less than one hour I will board a plane to Minneapolis. Exactly one month ago I received a letter from St. Olaf College announcing that I am a finalist for a theatre scholarship. Tomorrow I will take part in the Fine Arts Scholars weekend, during which I will meet with theatre professors, sit in on an Intermediate Directing class, tour the theatre facilities, chat with students, and stay overnight with a fine arts student. I will be among people who I might be working with on a daily basis next year at this time. I am going off to college for the weekend, but it seems like so much more.

This past week, I got a glimpse at my future. On Sunday, I saw the new off-Broadway musical Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda, playwright of In the Heights, is the mastermind behind Hamilton. In addition to writing the musical, Miranda performs as the principal character, Alexander Hamilton. The musical tells the story of the founding father, Alexander Hamilton...through rap.

I became familiar with Miranda through my work on In the Heights last winter, in which I played Nina Rosario in my high school’s production of it. Since then, Miranda has been my idol, the figurehead I look at for where I want to be someday. After I met him at Lawrence Academy in October, I immediately pooled all my Christmas and birthday requests into tickets for Hamilton. With its catchy tunes, timeless themes, and stunning choreography, props and set, it was worth a lifetime of Christmas and birthday requests. 

The night went better than I could have imagined, especially considering the initial disappointment that Miranda wasn’t performing that night because he was taking notes in the audience.  Javier Muñoz understudied him, and after the first number, it didn't even matter that he wasn't Miranda––I immediately bought that he was Hamilton. Additionally, to my luck Miranda ended up sitting right in front of me, and I got to chat with him during intermission. I also met Robin de Jesús (who happened to be in the audience), who played Sonny in In the Heights. I ran into him in the lobby during intermission, and explained how his version of Nina’s song "Breathe" helped me find my voice with the character. Jesús brought a softer tone to the song, something that better matched my voice than Mandy Gonzalez's powerful belt. I also met several of the cast members, including Christopher Jackson, whom I’ve long admired from the countless YouTube videos I’ve watched of him.

What I explained to each of the people I talked to was how incredible it was to be in their presence. The playbill compared Miranda to Shakespeare. Shakespeare took common speech and communicated it through poetry; Miranda is taking common speech and communicating it through rap. Also like Shakespeare, I feel as though Miranda is creating his own theatre company. Miranda took several people from his In the Heights team, including Director Thomas Kail, Christopher Jackson (who played Benny in In the Heights and plays George Washington in Hamilton), and Javier Muñoz (who understudied Miranda as Usnavi in In the Heights and understudies him as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton). The work they are doing is revolutionary. They are taking the theatre and bringing it to this new generation, communicating themes about family and loyalty and storytelling through language of today. These are the people who I believe, ten years from now, everyone will be studying. They are on the brink of making it big––Hamilton is already scheduled to go to Broadway. To be able to talk with them when they are on this cusp, to be able to see their work while it’s still off-Broadway, is such an honor. 

On Sunday, I was a part of their world. This weekend, I will further dive into this theatre world. Every day when I’m working on my Senior Project (which is all about exploring what it means to be a director, and specifically, what it means for me to be a director), I’m going deeper into this world. And I can’t imagine living in a better one. 

No comments: