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Southmoreland senior Christina Garsteck enjoys listening to the Tony award winning musical Hamilton and has found relatability with its characters and themes.
“It was the first musical I listened to, and that was when I was a freshman,” Garsteck said. “I have found great inspiration from the character and real life woman Angelica Schuyler Church (Alexander Hamilton’s sister-in-law), something I felt back then but feel more strongly about now.
“I recently read about her 11 letters,” Garsteck continued, “and there is something suffocatingly relatable about her turmoil between staying with her family in a situation that held her back or leaving her family, her sister Eliza (Schuyler Hamilton, Hamilton’s wife) in particular, and making her life into something she wanted to live.”
Hamilton is the most sought after performing arts event, selling out performances in New York City daily at the Richard Rodgers Theatre and tickets selling at hundreds of dollars per seat. It is currently on tour of the United States, where it is performing in Pittsburgh this month where it opened at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts on January 1.
Hamilton focuses on the life and death of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. The show tells his story through song and rap in the styles of R&B, soul, pop, hip hop, and traditional show tunes. It also breaks casting boundaries by featuring people of color as the Founding Fathers and other historical characters.
Through the Hamilton Education Program, Garsteck and her peers in Advanced Placement Literature will be granted the opportunity to see the show on January 25 with no cost.
The Hamilton Education Program is run by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. According to the Gilder Lehrman website, the program invites Title I high schools across the nation to “integrate Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Era into classroom studies and then see the musical.”
“I applied to this program, and the application was quite lengthy,” Advanced Placement Literature teacher Mrs. Amy Brown said. “I filled out most of the application, and (principal) Mr. (Daniel) Krofcheck filled out a portion. I also spoke to people at the institution. There was a two-month waiting period to hear back, and we received an acceptance letter. It was incredibly exciting.”
Ten AP Language students also will be attending.
Advanced Placement Literature and Language students completed a workbook created by the creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Hamilton producers, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute to educate them on the Founding Era. The students also completed a project where they select a Founding Era person, event, or document and write a poem, monologue, song, or rap inspired by their choice.
Students turned in their projects, and a panel of judges selected the best one to feature in a video. The winning project is a rap song inspired by Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” but the lyrics are about President George Washington. It was written by seniors Olivia Price and Maggie Moore.
“Every school attending the performance made a video, and at the performance they will play a segments of each school’s video,” Mrs. Brown said. “I’m really excited to see what the students have written and produced.”
Mrs. Brown hopes her students can appreciate the history of Hamilton and understand how it has shaped society today.
“Rarely is there a historical performance that is so relatable to young people. This is history that celebrates literature, music, life experiences, and modern society,” Mrs. Brown said. “This is putting all of the pieces together. Hamilton is not just a musical. It is history and creativity in action, and it helps us to understand who we are and how our world has been shaped. I love that (Hamilton creator) Lin-Manuel Miranda calls it a musical inspired by ‘them’ but defining ‘us’!”
Science teacher Mr. Michael Busato will be one of six chaperones attending the field trip performance.
“It’s an honor to even go and be able to see it,” Mr. Busato said.
Mrs. Denise Saunders, math teacher and another chaperone, agrees, stating that she is “so excited.”
“I think it is a fantastic opportunity for our students. Mrs. Brown did an excellent job getting the grant for our students. I am so lucky to be part of this,” Mrs. Saunders said. “I am excited to spend a day with our students outside the classroom. I always hear my students talking about Hamilton and singing the songs from the musical.”
Other chaperones include Mrs. Brown and English teachers Mrs. Jenna Hixson and Mr. Chuck Brittain.
At the Benedum Center, the students will attend a question and answer session with the touring cast as well as watch the video featuring the students’ projects. They will also eat lunch at the theater and watch the matinee performance.
“Anyone can just go see Hamilton, but this is different,” said Mrs. Brown. “The performance is only a portion of what we’re getting out of this. This is the Hamilton experience.”
Garsteck was “overjoyed” when she heard the news that Southmoreland had been accepted to receive the free tickets.
“I knew one of my favorite Broadway actresses, Shoba Narayan, would be playing Eliza (Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton). The chance to see her perform live, in Hamilton of all shows, made me too happy to properly put into words,” Garsteck said. “(Getting to see it for free) left me ecstatic and in awe. I knew I’d never be able to see it otherwise.”
Mrs. Brown agrees, stating that she is “grateful” for programs like the Gilder Lehrman Institute.
“They truly care about education. This will be a first experience with theater for some students,” Mrs. Brown said. “I am beyond words that our school was selected.”
The Hamilton Education Program will reach 250,000 Title I students nationwide through 2020.