The critically acclaimed musical “Hamilton” finally has made its way to screen format, though not exactly how creator Lin Manuel Miranda promised. Originally, the filmed version of the Broadway show was supposed to hit movie theaters in October 2020, but due to the recent events that have turned the world upside down, it was released to Disney’s new streaming service. (Does this make Eliza a Disney Princess now?) Like many of my thespian colleagues and non-theatrical friends, I was very excited to hear the news of “Hamilton” being filmed professionally in order to give more people an opportunity to experience the show. While I was unable to watch it on July 3rd when it first dropped, I was able to sit down with my parents a few nights ago to see what all the hype on the internet was about.
I was like a good majority of my friends in high school who learned the entire cast album by heart when the musical first opened in 2015. To this day, I could sing every lyric of the show if you turned on the soundtrack. As I went through college, the popularity of “Hamilton” ebbed and flowed: some people were still very much on the A. Ham train and others were over it. I grew in my various crafts as a theatrical artist and also learned the ins and outs of film making. I am now two months removed from undergrad and five months removed from stepping inside a theater; I did not expect the grief of missing my chosen career path to hit me so hard while watching this recording.
So much of my life has been saturated in theatre. Having performed, worked technically, designed and managed over 60 shows in the past ten years, it has become the thing that has connected me to people the most deeply. I have gained so much empathy by walking in the shoes of so many different characters while working alongside my fellow actors. I have learned how to be a quick and proactive problem solver as a technician. I have strengthened my confidence in myself through design. I have learned to lead with grace and understanding as a stage manager. Getting all this experience in theatre made the cross over to the film world so much more interesting. Cinema students got to share their knowledge with the theatre students and vice versa. We collaborated on such interesting ground because the basic desire to tell stories is what has made us pursue the career path we are on. Studying theatre and cinema made me read, think and respond to the world around me with a more critical eye. It is because of the experiences on and off the stage and screen that I am who I am today. Watching this musical reminded me why I so desperately want to get back to where I have spent the last ten years: theatre has made me feel like I can make a difference.
“Hamilton” was a beautiful example of the art form of cinema making theatre shine. There is no recreating a true theatrical experience in someone’s living room on their tv, as theatre is an artform that is to be shared between artists and an audience. However, it is clear that the filmmakers wanted to do the best that they could to convey the work and talent that goes into a theatrical endeavor. Principle and ensemble characters alike were showcased beautifully, as well as the designers’ stunning masterpieces all coming together. It also gave the audience a chance to see how detailed performers dive into their characters by being able to see subtle facial expressions that are often missed when watching a live show. It is truly fantastic to see cinematic artists using their storytelling skills to support their theatrical counterparts.
To the people who are upset/unimpressed/frustrated with the recording of live performance: imagine if this is the first way that someone is able to experience theatre. Due to countless circumstances, this could quite possibly be many peoples’ first experience with the world we miss so dearly. This could possibly be the spark that strikes in someone’s heart to create rather than to wallow in their current state of unrest in this ever changing environment. This could be someone’s gateway to a new form of self expression. We are walking a line between cinematic and theatrical art, but in reality, this could be a way for both artforms to evolve. Do I believe that cinema should replace live performance? Absolutely not. Nothing ever could. However, in the name of accessibility, I believe that creating opportunities for more people to see innovative theatrical performances could be vital in reviving the industry once our doors open again.
One of my favorite lyrics that repeats itself throughout the show is, “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” There are so many times where it feels as if this isn’t the case. It seems that everyone is at odds and that the middle ground has been lost all together. Hatred and spite is hurled back and forth constantly. However, there are glimmers of hope, joy, grace and forgiveness. There are good things happening in this dark and uncertain world. There are opportunities to love each other, even when we don’t agree. There are chances to change and grow. There is still so much work to be done, but truly, look around. We are living through history, just as our founding fathers and the strong women who laid the foundation of our country. We can use art to build on another up and, hopefully soon, begin to heal wounds both old and new.
Even if you’re not a theatre person, I highly recommend watching “Hamilton.” The work put in by everyone involved is outstanding and truly blessed my soul in this very shaky stage of life. Take heart, my fellow creators: we will return.
Until Next Time,