Hamilton Fan NonFiction
Hamilton, the musical, exploded in our home last fall as if “a hurricane came and devastation reigned.” It wasn’t long before Hamilaria had infected us, with song lyrics flying with the slightest trigger. We thought the obsession had peaked when my fourteen year-old, Quinn, made a celebrated video performing all the parts to Right Hand Man in a virtuoso demonstration of split-screen editing. But no, this musical had penetrated deep.
A few months ago Quinn and I decided we needed a better way to channel the obsession. We started sketching out a concept to expand on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s creation in a form that was reverential but not entirely derivative.
Introducing Fan NonFiction
Or perhaps more specifically, Hamilton FanNonFiction (or Hamilfan non-fiction?)
It’s no secret that many of our most beloved works of fiction — particular fantasies like Star Wars, Twilight, Dr. Who, Harry Potter, but extending to more realistic works like Sherlock Holmes or Catcher in the Rye — have this peculiar and wondrous quality: they spawn new works by multitudes of writers and artists that inhabit their worlds. Fanfiction transforms audiences into co-creators and communities. Much of it may not be objectively worthy of the source material, but as a whole it makes the fantasy worlds come to life far beyond the original work. And sometimes fanfiction evolves to become commercially (if not artistically or intellectuallly) successful on its own terms.
Since it’s beyond dispute that Lin-Manuel has woven a distinctive world out of history and pop culture, we think it’s possible to extend this world using the same kind of rigor that the best fanfiction writers strive for. We can do this by pulling out the “rules” that hold Hamilton together. Here are the rules we’ve extracted:
Rules of Hamilton Fan NonFiction (draft)
- It must be a musical (or fit into one). The narrative must be expressed primarily in song and dance. It can be a full-length musical, a mini-musical or a single song
- It must be history. The storylines and main characters must be historically accurate, with poetic license allowed only at the margins on details. Narrative compression and minor speculations are allowed, but should never compromise the widely accepted plot points. A historical perspective is, of course, allowed.
- It must have the Ron Chernow stamp of approval. Events and/or characters in the narrative should be referenced somehow in the Hamilton “Bible” (Chernow’s epic biography on the man)
- It must be inspirational. Storylines should retain the original’s playful earnestness, but avoid clichéd or saccharine sentimentality. Cynicism is to be targeted at specific evils such as political hypocrisy, but idealism should be the recurring theme
- It must connect to Hamilton characters. Main characters must be historically linked to the personalities in the Hamilton musical by a few degrees of separation — e.g., we get to Sally Hemmings by way of Thomas Jefferson
- It must refer to musical motifs in the original. Songs should connect musically to motifs or patterns in Hamilton songs in a meaningful way — imagine a boudoir scene between Hamilton and Hemmings that employs a banjo to ironically associate the moment with “Room Where it Happens”
- It must be culturally relevant. Songs should be respectful of the musical theater tradition but be rooted in hip hop, R&B and/or pop music. Gilbert and Sullivan-style music is not a good fit (even though we may make lyrical allusions to it).
- It must use multi-ethnic casting. Characters should be played by people from a range of ethnic backgrounds; this is the one context we need to aim for historical inaccuracy,
Quinn and I have been working on a mini-musical about Benedict Arnold within these rules and it is a ton of fun (and much harder than it looks). He is sharing his own experiences on the project here on Medium, including a very raw teaser for the first song we’re working on: