‘Hamilton’ Connects With 1,900 CPS Students and Teachers
Last week, close to 1,900 students and teachers from 30 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) attended the matinée performance of the musical Hamilton at Broadway In Chicago’s The PrivateBank Theatre.
This was the first series of 10 all-student matinée performances launched in 2017 that will treat 20,000 Chicago-area high school students to the opportunity to see Hamilton. What makes the experience special beyond a $10 ticket admission for the hottest, most in-demand ticket on the theater circuit?
Students are required to spend several weeks in their classrooms studying American history that focused on Alexander Hamilton and the nation’s Founding Fathers.
Performing in front of a packed house, 13 students had the task to perform original pieces from their assignment that led them to hitting the stage. The schools represented included CICS Ralph Ellison, Westinghouse College Prep, Hubbard High School, Providence St. Mel School, Prosser Career Academy, University of Chicago Charter Schools (Woodlawn Campus), Von Steuben Metro Science Center, Perspectives High School of Technology, Muchin College Prep, Lake View High School, Amundsen High School and Lindblom Math and Science Academy.
Chloe Johnson, a student at Lindblom, represented her school with a stellar spoken-word performance of Ode to Phillis Wheatley. An avid poet, she says the opportunity to participate in the program left her awe-struck.
“When Ms. Liz announced it to the class, I was freaking out. Some students didn’t know what it was and that’s okay, but I was like ‘Are you serious, to pay $10 to work on a project and see Hamilton?’ I was ‘thank you’ and that was cool.”
She found the book in the school library and was thoroughly pleased to pick up the book of poetry. “I found three centuries of American poetry and I picked it up because I didn’t know what else I would do my topics on. I found Phillis Wheatley and I found one of her poems to the University of Cambridge inside of the book. I figured, the universe is trying to tell me something. I’m a poet, she’s a poet and I researched her some more,” she said.
The student ticket cost of $10 was subsidized in part by funders which Hamilton producers made each ticket available for this educational partnership at between $60-$70.
Some of the donations were provided by billionaire Ken Griffin, The Crown and Goodman Family, the Pritzker Foundation, the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation committed an additional $6 million to support the expansion of the national program.
Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller says about the Chicago program premiere, “Our goal is to ensure that students have a shot to see Hamilton and use its words, music and staging to further their understanding and enjoyment of American History, music and drama. Now we have the pleasure of expanding the education program outside of New York in Chicago and other cities around the country.”
Watching from the balcony were some of the ensemble cast members from Hamilton who eventually joined Seller onstage for a Q&A panel discussion.
Chris De’Sean Lee, who plays the dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, connected with the young audience. “This show is crazy, it’s insane. There’s going to be somebody on stage you can relate to. It’s just a good show everybody can get down to. Even if you’re not a fan, there’s something for everybody,” Lee said. Making the comparison to J. Cole and not always loving everything, but there’s always something you’re going to appreciate.
After a morning of rousing performances by students, they were marched across the street to the Palmer House Hilton for brown bag lunches before the afternoon matinée performance of Hamilton. Their enthusiasm and encouragement for their peers’ efforts to perform was refreshing. There wasn’t a ”boo” or a “snicker” from the audience.
Although she was nervous, Chloe didn’t allow her performance to falter.
“My stomach was all shaky and I had the chills. I couldn’t see anything, it was dark. It was just an honor to represent my school and do that piece and represent Phillis Wheatley as well. As a poet, that was so amazing to me to have an experience that I don’t think I would’ve ever had.”