“Hamilton:” How Art Really Can Affect Change
I am not a person given over to exaggerated exclamations or fits of passion; most of the time, I feel I am a silent minority displaying dispassionate observations in a lightning-quick world of hyperbolic stimuli.
So, in the months leading up to my experience with the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton” this past weekend, I did plenty of covert eye rolling and polite nodding at people who tossed around “genius,” and “transformative,” in reference to the soundtrack and the show. But, my curiosity (and, I’ll reluctantly admit, my FOMO) piqued, and I began dipping my toe in the swell of the hype. I discovered there was something there; I wanted to see the show on the merits of how it changed the way Broadway could create something new and interesting, and with a subject rarely explored outside a high school classroom.
As I learned through social media about bits and pieces of the show, I was able to participate on a casual level in the fandom conversations surrounding me, and I discovered that every single person lucky enough to see it called it “life changing.” Every. Single. Person.
Now, I can be viscerally moved to tears if someone can hit a note just the right way in a song, and I can feel a surge in my chest if I see something that provokes beauty or grace. I have read stories, and then been reluctant to start a new one, just for the pleasure of clutching a little longer to a turn of phrase a phrase. I am the first to profess that Art has the power to enrich and inspire, but I hesitate to say any one magnificent piece or production could shift an entire World View.
You see, it has been 96 hours since I sat down to the surge of the opening song, and I still can’t get any of the following three hours out of my head. I think about it when I’m attending to any of my daily tasks, when I’m talking to other people, when I’m alone with my thoughts. There are certain songs from the soundtrack that I cannot play right before I go pick up my Offspring or meet Another Person, because every time, they make me cry.
Readers: I don’t cry. I just don’t. I am described by friends as dispassionate, and by others as, I don’t know: icy. So this? This is all freaking me out.
If I had to break down the genius of Lin Manuel Miranda and his cast and crew of “Hamilton,” I would have to divide it into tiers:
History and Current Events
Ambition and Caution
Justice and Freedom
History: Yes, the Revolutionary War is an integral part of American History, but George Washington, blah blah blah, Continental Congress, mm hmm. They are usually just a bunch of facts you memorize for your tests in your teenaged years, and soon forgotten, right? Except, I can’t now: That book hit all the right notes with both the personal and public desires for freedom and glory, blurring the timeline between the past and the present by emphasizing the universal desires for liberty and justice that have motivated so many people throughout the ages, and in so many places, to rise up.
In the second act, the cast topped themselves by spitting Brilliantly about politics, the driest, dullest kind of politics: Infrastructure. Did you just stifle a yawn? But, oh: “Hamilton” ‘s rendition of the formation of the U.S Treasury and the bid to dismantle it kept me on the edge of my seat. And, tied into that, is the second tier:
Ambition and Caution: For anyone from the dawn of time who feels they have brains and will, but no adequate vehicle with which to drive themselves up the proverbial hill, this play resonates. The hunger in Hamilton is awe-inspiring now, as it was then. How did he live life like he was running out of time? How can I live that way? How can I starve out the caution that both choked and fed Aaron Burr’s drive; how can I feed the courage that fueled Hamilton’s ambition? Maybe it’s just me, a woman approaching a birthday that will truly, finally herald in the Second Half of My Life, but really? I am at the crest of my life, forever looking downslope now, and I need to live now like I, too, am running out of time. This play just made me own it.
Justice and Freedom: Another Truth that I owned when I walked out of the theater was that all White Privilege got checked. And double-checked. Mine, included.
We’re talking about the birth of our Nation, so yeah, we’re talking about immigrants in this play. Let’s start with that. I’m not one for booting out immigrants, because I’ve always believed we’re all from immigrants. The notion that now that your family is here for a couple of generations, you feel like you get to boot out people because they make you feel uncomfortable or they took a job you didn’t want anyway? You’re just being an elitist or a racist. You want to argue they drain the system? Make them sign up into it, and make them pay into it; don’t deport them.
Anyway: Side rant. What I meant was, this show hits home the notion that we were founded on the dreams and the blood of immigrants, and on the unwilling backs of slaves. We need to acknowledge that, own it, and work for a future where everyone who wants to be here can be here without impunity. We also need to recognize that we need to advocate for equality and justice, and if we see something, we say something, and not just when the TSA tells us, but when we ourselves see someone treated differently because of how they look or speak or dress. There is no equality when people with power are silent. Silence is complicity. Take a stand to lift everyone up. Your immigrant ancestors will thank you for it on the Other Side.
So, yes: “Hamilton” changed my life. I became one of Those People who will rave about it as a “life-changer” to anyone who will ask. I will tell people it should be required viewing for all middle- and high-school-aged students. It should be required viewing for all adults, particularly the ones who like to, I don’t know, run on a political platform of us-versus-them, when it should be all-of-us-together. MY takeaways — and they are profound, for me — are that life is short, and we should grab it, and make the world a better place than how we came into it. We should all together work to rise everyone up.