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On October 27th, a joint collaboration of The Rockefeller Foundation, The Gilder Lehrman Foundation, producer Jeffrey Seller, creator (and star) Lin-Manuel Miranda, and New York City public schools announced that they will provide a means for more than 20,000 eleventh graders to not just watch Hamilton, the hottest, most ground-breaking musical in decades – but to actually go backstage and interact with the cast after their Wednesday matinee.
The show, whose average ticket price is $139 (and sold out almost entirely to the public through September) agreed to lower their ticket prices to $70, of which the foundations will cover $60. That means each student will pay $10 – as the New York Times states, “the same bill that bears Hamilton’s face” – as their only entry fee.
And this is a really big deal.
The targeted students, a high percentage of them low income, high-turnover, racially diverse and historically disconnected 16- and 17-year-olds, often have very little interest in the white guy who founded the nation. But Miranda has turned Broadway, history, and the interest surrounding it on its end – and it’s great to see these New York City public school students have such an incredible opportunity to not just see history, but to make it themselves.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, himself a product of New York’s public schools, stated at the end of his 60 Minutes interview that “when great people cross our paths, it forces us to reckon with our own lives.” Twenty thousand 11th grade students are going to get their chance at this when they meet Miranda and his cast. But the impacts on public education don’t stop there.
Miranda, who was inspired after reading Ron Chernow’s epic biography, brings to life one of the most misunderstood and oft-overlooked Founders. He notes how this young man leaped from abject poverty on the island of St. Croix to being the right-hand man and protege of George Washington to being a financial prodigy to help establish and sustain a new, democratic society. His impact on America could not be more reverberated than a bass line in the latest hip hop track atop the Billboard #200 list, which soon may include the the epic song “My Shot”, and his impact can no longer be ignored by history.
The same can also be said about Miranda’s impact on New York’s public school students.
For one, the nearly 70,000 students who are enrolled in New York City’s charter schools will not be invited to attend. Like Hamilton, they are “young, scrappy, and hungry” and just need “a shot.”
Second, the idea that the Founders are played by an almost sole black and Latino cast speaks so loudly to the students who sit in the seats of our city’s public schools, that it will be almost deafening to ignore.
Lastly, the fact that rap serves as the main medium of relaying the message and telling the story is revolutionary, not because Miranda focuses our attention on the nation’s beginning, but because it starts a new one on Broadway.
And maybe, just maybe, he will start a new one in our nation’s largest public school district.
Just as long as they’re “not throwing away their shot.”