*Contains some spoilers about Hamilton
Engaging young people in theatre can be hard (in fact, engaging adults in theatre can be hard), so when a show comes along that can hook them from just one YouTube clip you know it is something special.
Hamilton has been an absolute phenomenon across the world. It broke the rules of what theatre can be. It deals with the enormous themes of legacy, war, democracy, and the founding of the United States of America, and yet it is as human as it is epic and as exciting as it is educational.
To put it lightly: Hamilton is a game-changer.
Last month, I was lucky enough to accompany thirty students from Excelsior Academy to see the show at the Victoria Theatre in London. This performance was organised as part of the education strand of Hamilton and the audience was made up exclusively school and youth groups.
I have been working with these students for over a year through New Writing North’s Young Writers’ City programme. Some of them love drama and can sing Hamilton off by heart; some of them are rappers who knew bits of the show from YouTube; some of them didn’t really know much at all about Hamilton.
I can’t quite describe what a privilege it was to watch this show with a theatre full of teenagers. Teenagers who genuinely yelled at the end of the rap battles. Teenagers who couldn’t suppress their outrage when a main character cheats on his wife in her absence. Teenagers who were watching a show in which immigration, diversity and hip-hop were all things held in high esteem.
We’d got such an early train down to London, I was slightly concerned that any of us would be awake enough to watch it, but when we were shown to our front row seats (front row!!!) any fears I had were quickly lost. We were all completely hooked.
The train back was full of chatter about what our favourite moments were. Anything that used slow motion seemed to be a winner. It was such a brilliant and galvanising trip.
Young Writers’ City has been working with Excelsior students to write our very own Hiphopera: a hip-hop musical based in Newcastle’s west end (coming to the stage this Autumn!). We had previously watched clips of Hamilton on YouTube to provide us with inspiration, but to have the chance to see the show live was a whole different experience.
Making our own Hiphopera has been such a great way to develop and show off the talent that the participants at Excelsior have to offer. It brings together the rappers, the singers, the spoken word artists and the actors all in one place. I cannot emphasise enough the talent these young people have brought to this project.
Watch this space!