Don’t Throw Away Your Shot!

Hamilton has Rhode Islanders fired up

Hamilton has many Rhode Island connections, including a scholarship and essay contest
Hamilton has many Rhode Island connections, including a scholarship and essay contest
Photography by Joan Marcus, courtesy of PPAC

Whether you’re a theater buff or not, you’ve likely heard the buzz around Hamilton: An American Musical, the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton told through the lens of rap and hip hop. It took America by storm in 2015 and 2016, when it won 11 (yes, 11) Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. Nobody could get tickets to Hamilton; even Beyoncé and Jay-Z had to wait a few days to see the show.

Because of all this excitement, and the fact that Hamilton has been used by teachers all over the country to explain the Revolutionary War and subsequent building of our nation, one of the musical’s biggest audience is high school children. Numerous schools in New York City participated in a program called “The Hamilton Project” (nicknamed EduHam) in which 20,000 eleventh grade students saw the play – that’s one out of every four high school juniors in NYC.

Rhode Island is getting its own high school Hamilton push with the “Write Your Way to Hamilton” essay contest, sponsored by the Newport Historical Society, in which tenth graders across the state can write an essay in response to the prompt: “What is happening now in your community, or what could be happening, that has the power to change the future in Rhode Island and potentially the world?” Entrants have the chance to win tickets to see a spring performance of Hamilton with their teachers as chaperones. Papers are due on March 15 and the winners will be announced (from each county in Rhode Island) on April 5.

If you’re not in tenth grade, but still want to see the show, fear not: Hamilton is coming to PPAC. Set for a summer performance, tickets have yet to go on sale to the general public, and the date they start selling has also yet to be announced, but according to the Box Office, they expect to begin selling tickets in late spring for the July/August performances. Tickets were included as part of PPAC’s Taco/White Family Foundation Broadway Series. If you want to see Hamilton without traveling out of state, you’d better start checking PPAC’s website daily once the ice begins to thaw because tickets will sell out in a snap.

The creator and now super-star of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has received international attention for the show. The awards are endless: a Pulitzer prize, a MacArthur Genius Grant, and... a scholarship at Rhode Island College?

The Miranda Family recently launched a scholarship at RIC for first generation, underrepresented theater students. Applicants have the chance to win two years-worth of aid, up to $10,000. The Mirandas felt that RIC was the right choice because of the college’s long-running tradition of excellence in musical theater and affordability and accessibility.

“It’s challenging to find a pathway to a career in the performing arts when you don’t see yourself represented on that stage,” says Lin-Manuel. “That’s why it’s so important to create opportunities for students who are typically underrepresented in the arts. Rhode Island College is the right place to do this because of its track record of promoting top artistic talent in its music, theater, and dance programs while making quality arts education attainable for students from all backgrounds.”

All applicants must be full-time students, maintain a GPA of at least 2.5, participate in a live interview and audition, and write a letter citing what makes them the perfect candidate to receive the award and their post-grad aspirations.

One of the recipients of the scholarship this year is not only a first-generation college student, but also a first-generation American, as well as being the only woman to win the scholarship. Senior theater major Andrea Vargas of Riverside was touched when she found out she’d been selected. “Lin sent us a special message and, let me tell you, I was so emotional and excited to see his face up on that screen!” she says. “My mom reminded me after the meeting that where I was sitting when I found out I got the scholarship was the same area I was sitting in when I was 5-years-old, watching The Sound of Music with her, and I turned to her and I said: ‘Mommy, someday, I’m going to do that!’ and I pointed at the actress playing Maria. It was a special moment to be there 16 years later, receiving a scholarship from the Miranda Family.”