SHS students are “not throwing away their shot” at Hamilton

SHS Librarian Jen Wasyliko. Photo by Karen Engdahl.

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – What do you get when you mix the creative efforts of a former Manhattan English teacher, the life story of a famous American Founding Father, a mixture of musical styles from rap to show tunes, the amazing talent of Broadway’s best theater people, the generosity of a foundation devoted to American History, the enthusiasm of local teachers and students, and the price of “one Hamilton?” A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about professional theater behind the scenes and see a live performance of “Hamilton: An American Musical” in Boston.

Thanks to a program funded by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, high school students throughout New England will participate in learning activities culminating with a matinee performance of the musical at the Boston Opera House Nov. 8. SHS school librarian Jen Wasyliko learned of the program last spring when the foundation announced the Hamilton project.

“I applied for it right away,” she said, “and we’re the only Vermont school participating. We received 100 tickets for students and 10 for chaperones. In order to qualify for a ticket, each student has to conduct some historical research using primary sources and create an original piece – a rap, song, script, letter, or something else – that could be performed. Out of all the submissions, we’ll choose one to video, and that performance will be part of the activities taking place with other students before the play on Nov. 8.”

“Kids are excited about ‘Hamilton,'” she continued, “but they’re also a little anxious about creating their own work. The point is to mirror the creative process of Lin-Manual Miranda, the man who wrote and starred in ‘Hamilton.'”

Miranda, a singer, songwriter, and one-time high school English teacher, wrote the book and the musical after being inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton. “Hamilton” is a sung and rapped-through musical about the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton incorporating hip-hop, R&B, pop, soul, and traditional-style show tunes and color-conscious casting of non-white actors as the Founding Fathers and other historical figures.

The show, which opened on Broadway in August of 2015, earned the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and was nominated for a record 16 Tony Awards, of which it won 11.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” said Wasyliko, “an amazing combination of American history, music, acting, and a chance to really explore creativity. We’ll have the chance for a Q&A session with the actors before the performance. We can hardly wait!”

Working with Wasyliko and the students is a group of equally enthusiastic SHS teachers including Sam Holmberg, Becky Skrypeck, Jenny Shaw, Sarah Zaino, Jim Chlebak, Chris Lievense, and Andy Jackins.

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