April 18, 2016

Not Throwing Away Their Shot

Hamilton-mania is sweeping the country.

Tickets to the Broadway blockbuster by Lin-Manuel Miranda are nearly impossible to come by, and those who have seen it rave about it. Just like Alexander Hamilton himself, the rap musical is revolutionary. It has upended traditional notions of Broadway and of U.S. history and is now even changing education.

Beginning in April 2016, the show is reserving its Wednesday matinees for low-income New York City high school students—at $10 a ticket. Beyond subsidizing tickets, the Hamilton education initiative spurs students to use primary documents from the same period that Alexander Hamilton lived in and create their own raps about related historical events. One student from each school is selected to perform his or her rap on stage after the show.

Brett Clark ’10, M.A. ’11, an English teacher at Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica, Queens, has seen firsthand the impact of the initiative. On April 13, 2016, she came to the show with 140 students from her school, and before that she worked for weeks with students on the Hamilton education project. 

Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda v02

“Hamilton” creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, (second from left) and other cast members give a talk-back as part of an education initiative that Brett Clark ’10, M.A. ’11 participated in with her students from Jamaica, Queens.


She even coached Zaviel Young, the Edison student who was chosen to perform on the Broadway stage (in front of Miranda and about 1,300 audience members) his rap about Thomas Paine writing Common Sense.

“This has been the best experience of my teaching career,” Clark said, noting that theater has been her passion since she first saw a Broadway show at age 9. “I went into teaching because the basic principles are the same; I have to convey my passion for literature to my students in the same way that an actor must portray his passion for theater and subject to the audience.”

She said the best part of the experience for her was seeing students from her school “on the edge of their seats completely enraptured.”

“I don’t think students at a career and technical education school think that a life in theater is something that they can have, but this experience opened up so many new doors to them,” Clark said.

Clark has been inspired to go beyond the script. She is using Hamilton lyrics to help her students prepare for the New York State Regents exam. “Each day, we have a different Hamilton quote of the day where we have to identify the rhetorical devices,” she said in an interview with Theatre Mania.

NY1 covered the story of Clark and her students in a segment that aired on Friday, April 15, 2016.


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