“Being onstage and performing for people has been a dream of mine, and I’ve always wanted to do it. And this is, like, my first step,” explained Beau Monton of San Francisco’s George Washington High School.
Monton, 17, was one of 17 high school students who staged original pieces inspired by “Hamilton” at the Orpheum Theatre on April 12 as part of the Broadway musical’s celebrated educational program, EduHam. Approximately 2,200 students and teachers from 15 San Francisco high schools attended the program. EduHam provides students of Title I schools, which predominantly educate students from low-income families, with a curriculum focused upon America’s founding, which students connect to their own lives. These connections manifest in selected students’ performances on the Orpheum stage, just hours before an included “Hamilton” matinee.
“Kids have so much to say today,” stated Emmy Raver-Lampman, who fulfilled the role of the event’s MC and who plays Angelica Schuyler in the touring “Hamilton” cast. “I think (EduHam) gives them a place to … create these amazing pieces of art and it gives them a stage.”
Students exhibited original spoken word poetry, scripted scenes, acoustic songs and raps. Some placed America’s founding in a modern context, drawing from the musical’s own presentation of history through rap and R&B. Mission High School’s Aila Alli and Celeste Guerreo presented a scene in which Revolutionary War figure John Laurens comes out as gay to his father in heaven. The duo ended the performance by announcing, “Accept and love your kids. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Jinghao Huang and Yawen Yu of San Francisco International High School presented their “Boston Massacre Poem” in both English and Chinese. Their Chinese second reading received encouraging cheers and applause from the crowd.
Others drew material from personal experience. Micol DiAloisio and Kayla Lin’s “Immigrant Poem,” the first performance of the day, portrayed their respective parents’ stories of immigrating to the United States. As “Hamilton” is known for its celebration of immigrant narratives, such as Alexander Hamilton’s — best embodied by the musical’s now-infamous line, “Immigrants: we get the job done” — the Balboa High School students were asked to write about immigration within their integrated curriculum classes.
“Our teacher … really wanted us to include our own lives into ‘Hamilton,’ so writing about my father, about how he came here alone to meet his family, and how he grew up in Kansas, and how he and his brothers were the only Asians — it was difficult for him,” explained Lin.
The program also included a question-and-answer portion, in which questions submitted by the schools in attendance were answered by members of the touring “Hamilton” cast. When asked how, as a person of color, the show had changed his relationship to U.S. history, Joshua Henry, who plays Aaron Burr, responded, “What I love about being a person of color in this show is that it’s representing of how no matter where you’re from, no matter what you look like, no matter what color your skin, you can have a huge impact.”
Beau Monton of George Washington High School echoed this sentiment. “(‘Hamilton’ is) all about diversity. … It’s kind of like overcoming a lot of different things: oppression, privilege. … When I think about this play, I think of it as a really big inspiration.”
Monton and his classmate Legina Chen, 18, performed an original rap battle between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. “This is something totally different than what you’d expect in school, because then you’re thinking about textbooks,” Monton replied when asked what he most valued from the musical. “With ‘Hamilton,’ it’s all music, songs, rap, dancing, all this other stuff that you wouldn’t expect. And I think that really will help the educational experience.”
Many students looked forward to the chance to see the musical, not just for the much sought-after tickets but for a chance to learn American history in a new way.
“A majority of my students have never seen live theatre,” stated Kirsten Janssen, a visual arts teacher at Lowell High School. “They’re going to be so connected to the story; it’s what they’re learning in their history classes right now, and a lot of them are immigrants or their parents are, so to see this experience is multi-emotional.”
With two more EduHam programs planned during the musical’s San Francisco run, more than 8,500 Bay Area high school students in total will receive an opportunity to see “Hamilton” and watch classmates’ and peers’ original performances on stage.
“What this show is bringing up and stirring up and how it’s changing the world is really inspiring,” Raver-Lampman articulated. “So to be on the front lines of that and watch change happen is a very, very amazing thing.”
Contact Caroline Smith at [email protected].