EduHam in Minneapolis gives students starring roles in their own version of history
Hennepin Theatre Trust, community partners host 5,000 students for HAMILTON
For students from more than 30 high schools in Minnesota and beyond, the best part about spending a day at the historic Orpheum Theatre to see HAMILTON was actually performing on the stage where it happens themselves. Through rap, monologue and even folk guitar, students participating in a program known as EduHam seized opportunities to do what HAMILTON actors do: tell stories about history through musical theatre.
“When I was backstage, there was this really pretty mirror and I was looking at myself, and said, ‘Naje you gotta kill this,’” said Naje Wright, a student at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis whose rap describes the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. “If you know it, show it. If you got it, bring it out there.”
EduHam is short for Hamilton Education Program, the Broadway show’s celebrated education program that brings students to see the acclaimed hip-hop musical who may not otherwise see it on their own.
The program is more than discounted tickets to the show; its mission is to improve the teaching and learning of American history. A national partnership between the producers of HAMILTON and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, EduHam invites high schools that serve large populations of low-income students to integrate Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers into their classroom studies.
The curriculum requires students to create a performance that brings to life an historical event from the Revolutionary Period. The best projects are selected to be performed onstage before an audience of students.
Naje Wright placed herself into the mind of Alexander Hamilton as he approached his fatal dual. “If you were Hamilton, what would you be thinking if it was your last 12 steps?”
If these are my last 12 steps, what would be my legacy?
Or, if not, what consequences will I suffer?
Will people still be on my side?
What next movements will I have to take to keep doing what I’m doing to support my family?
Legacy and Life Lessons
In fact, the day’s events centered on legacy — and life lessons. After the morning session of student performances, several HAMILTON actors answered questions and offered advice.
“Mistakes happen,” said Elijah Malcom, who plays Philip Hamilton, in describing how his mind has gone completely blank in the middle of a line. “You have to move on. You have to forgive yourself.”
“Even actors get stage fright,” Kyle Scatliffe, who is both Thomas Jefferson and Marquis De Lafayette onstage, explained. “When someone asks, ‘Are you nervous?’ I reply with ‘I’m excited.’” He advised students to figure out how to channel energy in ways that will benefit them — onstage that means incorporating nervous energy into your character.
The Q&A session with actors in street clothes preceded the day’s culminating event: a special matinee production of HAMILTON. For many students, it was their first Broadway production.
“It was amazing,” said Essence Enwere, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. From the musical numbers to the lighting, it was intense and got dramatic.”
Nearly 5,000 students participated in EduHam and attended two separate HAMILTON productions at the Orpheum on September 27 and October 4. Most came from schools in the Twin Cities metro area, with some as far away as Iowa and Wisconsin.
Community Comes Together
HAMILTON producers make tickets for this educational partnership available for $70 in the cities around the country that host EduHam programs. In Minneapolis, $60 of each ticket was subsidized by Project SUCCESS and its funders, reducing the ticket prices to $10 each.
To further enhance the experience, Hennepin Theatre Trust partnered with PNC Bank to provide teaching artists at 10 schools, including Naje Wright’s school, who worked with students in creating their performances.
“I picked the Hamilton/Burr duel and I thought that was kinda cool. Cause it’s his last steps and you can summarize his whole life – everything he’s done for his country and actually make something bigger than it was,” Wright said.
In the spirit of the HAMILTON’S closing song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” students left the daylong theatre event with legacy on their minds – and a directive to consider their own.
Actor Kyle Scatliffe told them, “Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to leave here after I’m gone?’ Hamilton started a revolution when he was 19, which is just about the age that you are in this audience. You are powerful. You are the future, and the present.”
Hennepin Theatre Trust partnered with numerous community partners for this event. Aside from PNC Bank and Project SUCCESS — whose funders include Aroha Philanthropies, Target, Minnesota Vikings and Wilf Family Foundations — the Trust wishes to thank the Target Center, which opened its doors to 5,000 students for lunch on each EduHam performance day.