Hennepin Theatre Trust brings Spotlight Students and ‘Hamilton’ Cast to the room where it happens
“Mr. Secretary,” Josh Tower greeted Steve Simon, Minnesota Secretary of State as they approached each other on the Minnesota State Capitol steps on a windy Wednesday afternoon.
“Mr. Burr, sir,” came Secretary Simon’s reply, and the two shared a laugh with Tower’s fellow Hamilton cast members and Spotlight Students as they prepared for their photo op.
Hamilton cast members Josh Tower (Aaron Burr), Stephanie Umoh (Angelica Schuyler), Tyler Belo (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison) and Raven Thomas (Ensemble) joined high school students from Spotlight Education’s Critical Review program on April 19 for a unique opportunity to engage in a roundtable discussion with Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon on democracy and voting. The meeting came just a week after legislation backed by Secretary Simon to increase voter access and participation in the democratic process, the Democracy for the People Act, passed in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
“The Hamilton cast couldn’t have picked a more perfect moment to bring their talents to Minnesota” said Secretary Simon. “Much like the young republic of Hamilton, our democracy is facing unprecedented challenges – but also unprecedented opportunities to build a stronger and more inclusive democracy. Minnesota is seizing on that opportunity, taking steps to make our voting easier, more accessible and more secure. The voices of artists like the Hamilton cast and the Minnesota students who made their voices heard today will be essential to the long-term resilience of democracy in Minnesota and across the country. I want to thank these inspiring young leaders, the Hamilton cast and Hennepin Theatre Trust for stepping up.”
Arriving in the Secretary of State’s office, Tower felt another connection with his character. “So, this is the room where it happens?” the Burr actor said as he sat down. The group spent the afternoon working through important issues that face voters, particularly young voters, at the polling booths today. From the early pressure of the civil obligation to register, to the protest of refusing to vote, the cast and students shared their experiences at the polls, both as actors touring the country and students encouraging their peers to add their voice to the chorus.
“I had only voted for the first time this last fall” said Moriah Weiss, Spotlight Education student from Tartan High School. “Admittedly, I had never appreciated history nor given much thought to politics or voting. But as my education progressed and especially after I saw Hamilton, I feel that I was able to find context for the place in democracy we all share and the weight our vote and our voice carries. With the heavy decisions and discussions our democracy faces every day, it is important now more than ever to make our voices heard.”
Hamilton, acclaimed for its powerful portrayal of American history and relevance to contemporary issues, utilizes its platform to inspire action. Cast members and staff have long been involved in promoting voter registration and democratic participation across the nation, particularly during election years. Today’s discussion focused on the importance of access to voting, Minnesota’s high rates of voter turnout, the importance of youth participation in democracy and Secretary Simon’s priorities this legislative session for a stronger democracy.
“The system works,” said Raven Thomas (Ensemble). “We can see it in action every day, from legislature passing here in Minnesota to the movements in Tennessee and my home of Ohio. Our voices are heard through our vote.”
Our Spotlight Education program is an essential part of arts education in over 100 high schools across Minnesota. The program supplements and enhances arts curricula through production assessments, workshops and arts journalism, increasing equitable access to quality theater education. The students in attendance at the roundtable discussion are members of the Critical Review program. Critical Review is a rigorous writing program that aims to develop critical thinking skills through arts journalism. Students attend and review productions through Hennepin Theater Trust’s Broadway Season and participate in workshops led by experts in the fields of musical theater, writing and journalism.
“We are proud to bring high school students to the Minnesota Capitol through our Spotlight Education program,” said Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust. “The arts have long represented the voice of the people and are a powerful vehicle for civic education and engagement. Through dynamic arts programing that enriches curriculum in high schools across the state, we are not only creating a knowledge of theater in our Spotlight students, we are instilling them with confidence, empathy and critical thinking skills that will support them in their lives offstage as they develop as the next generation of leaders in Minnesota.”
“Attending the visit to the Minnesota Capitol with Hamilton‘s cast was a pure delight, a true highlight of my time in Critical Review,” said Weiss. “Hearing from the Secretary of State and the cast members made me realize again how important it is to vote, and to be a part of the decisions that occur in the United States. It shows that theater is so much more than just performing; it can be acts of rebellion or history lessons or a means to inspire in many different contexts, like voting and participating in democracy. Thank you many times over for this incredible opportunity.”
Hamilton is now open at the Orpheum Theatre for a 5-week run through May 6. For tickets and showtimes, visit the event page.
Critical Review is a part of our Spotlight Education program, which plays an essential role in arts education in 100 schools across the state and enhances arts curriculum for over 8,000 students every year. To learn more and support the program, visit our Spotlight Education page.