The PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago seats 1800, and Hamilton, the hip-hop historical smash hit musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, sells it out every night. On Wednesday, February 22, every seat was full as usual, but this time, they were all occupied by high school students.
Students and teachers from 30 schools in the Chicago Public School District got a field trip to the stage for a day-long event themed around the Broadway hit. There was a cast question-and-answer session, student performances and presentations, and of course, a matinee production of the feature itself.
This was the debut of the Hamilton Educational Program, a heartchild of Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller. With financial help from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Crown and Goodman Family, Ken Griffen, the Polk Brothers Foundation, the Pritzker Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the McCormick Foundation, the show is made available at only $70 per student, $60 of that subsidized by donors. With regular Hamilton tickets selling in the hundreds of dollars and frequently breaking $1000 per seat, it’s an unbelievable opportunity for these students.
At this performance, 26 students were selected from the participating schools to perform onstage, bringing their own compositions, raps, and poems to the stage for their cheering peers. They explored their own American history through art and verse, which is exactly what Hamilton is meant to inspire.
After the performances, students got to interrogate most of the cast about American history, about their take on their characters and on theatre in general, and many other things. Then they had lunch, and after that, the show itself began, with Wayne Brady (of Whose Line Is It Anyway fame) launching brilliantly into his role as Aaron Burr.
The best part of all of this is that this was not a one-time event. Nine more times in Chicago in the rest of 2016’s school year, students will fill this theatre and watch history come to life. The Hamilton Educational Program will be available to nearly 20,000 high school students in that time, and who knows what it can spark in that many minds?