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On Facts Of Common Knowledge And Obscure Nature


July 13, 2016

In Relation to Stories, Business, and Creativity

It was a little over a year ago, in a moment of Internet meandering, when I first encountered Hamilton. I had finally gotten to read one of my many open tabs, an entertainment and leisure article on the 2015-16 Broadway Season, highlighting a show about Alexander Hamilton as a must see.

Fact of Common Knowledge:
I love Broadway Musicals.
Fact of Obscure Nature:
My second favorite historical time period is the Revolutionary War.

My natural interests predisposed me to favor Hamilton. A story I was curious about in a format I already adored. My educational training inclined me to study the show as it gained popularity, impacted communities and seeped into society. It seemed this musical easily transcends its audience by being revolutionary in form, style, and execution. Basically, my fascination for Hamilton began a year ago and with every new article, the release of the cast recording, every Instagram update, my interest only increased. But it was a professional curiosity and an addiction to stories that led me to listen to this audiobook. Hamilton the Revolution promises to explore the relationship between storyteller and story by exposing the journey.

Fact of Common Knowledge:
Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr*
Fact of Obscure Nature:
Pretty much everything else about Alexander Hamilton.

*I believe this is common knowledge taught in history between 8th and 10th grade.
**I could be wrong.

The show Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton from his birth in 1757 to his death in 1804 and does it all in just under 3 hours. The book Hamilton the Revolution tells the story of two revolutions, following one from 1776 to 1804 and another from 2007 to 2015 in about 288 pages (or 6 hours and 2 minutes). The stories are intertwined. They ebb each other as only source material and narrative content can, delving into a contemporary modification of undeniably universal themes of struggles, ambitions, and achievements. The structure of this tale about the journey to creation is unlike any other I have encountered. It isn’t just the story about how Bruce (the mechanical shark) almost ruined Jaws, or how the blood of Pyscho was actually chocolate syrup. Hamilton the Revolution is not an exercise in vanity with the intent to sustain fanatics and scholars. Miranda and Craver wrote a history of reactions and impacts, as a way to understand the American Revolution and the creation of the show. The writers (and consequently the show) consistently ask their audience to question social facts and challenge their understanding and construction of history.

Hamilton the Revolution was never really about how a musical or a revolution almost didn’t happen. There is a respectable and accepted embrace of the inevitability of creation as there is with any retrospective story. What it was about, or what Hargitay’s voice kept drawing my attention to was a bunch of unwaveringly faithful founders and equally relentless creators and how they made things happen.  How very Alexander Hamilton (“don’t be shocked when your history book mentions me”) of the tale. True to the tradition of the show, the book continues to expand our knowledge of Alexander Hamilton and individuals that resemble his character.

Fact of Common Knowledge:
Broadway musicals are a commercial business.
Fact of Obscure Nature:
Production of Broadway musicals requires a number (like a lot) of people.*

*This may not be an obscure fact to anyone in creative production.

When you listen to Hamilton the Revolution (or read it), you realize just the sheer number of people involved to make the show happen in every way it has. From the beginning, when Lin Manuel Miranda performed at the White House before the show was even a show to the part where Questlove produced the cast recording. Presidents to Rappers to Broadway Giants. And amongst the notable are the constant professionals who were part of the team. The chapters highlight the process of creation by focusing on those who practiced their trade and honed their crafts. It wasn’t about a momentary spark of genius for a collection of individuals, it was about a collection of individuals momentarily meeting to create. I was consistently surprised by the revelation of how hard everyone worked. My favorite instance of work ethic was how it was historical research that led to incorporating colonial construction traditions of shipbuilders into the stage design. A stage that ingeniously evokes time and place while supporting themes of framework and fluidity.

It is easy and relatable for a production professional to understand how all these definable details created this show. To be lead from successful collaborations through the everyday moments, with the same gravitas of importance, was refreshing. To be made to think beyond the strength of the idea, or the story but about the process and how each step of the process impacted the success. It is about the development of the story and the idea but also about the development of marketing and how the story reached its audience. Hamilton the Revolution is about the business of creating the story as much as it is about the story itself.

Fact of Common Knowledge:
Creativity is limitless.
Fact of Obscure Nature:
Creativity sometimes needs limits.

There is a moment in the book when the discussion turns to how Alexander Hamilton was the device of his own demise. The historical focus was on the end of Hamilton’s political career, as a result of his lack of restraint. While the creative focus was praising the show’s creative team for practicing restraint. One of the main ideas of the book and the show is about brilliance or intelligence, or creative ability. Alexander Hamilton could write his way out of a paper bag, but it could be argued he was the most successful when that ability was harnessed. My favorite anecdote from the book is almost a nonconsequential detail about how Tommy Kail (the director) upon joining the creative team immediately set deadlines. It was a throwaway line almost, a step in the bridge that got the audience from one moment to the next. But in that moment, the reader was given an insight to creativity.

The idea of a hip hop musical Broadway show was not immediate, and as Christopher Jackson is quoted at one point “Lin had a lot of ideas.” The idea isn’t what created the show, it was what gave way to create the show. The idea needed a structure, a path, a set of limits to be built within. The idea needed work – work done over time. Hamilton was not created overnight. The United States of America was not created over night. The show and as the book explores the country took time, took many voices, and took flexible structure to happen.

So if you haven’t listened to Hamilton the Revolution, then buy it here…. I recommend you not waste your shot.

Book Title: Hamilton The Revolution
Author: Lin Manuel Miranda & Jeremy Craver
Narrated By: Mariska Hargitay
Publisher Synopsis:
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.

HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages–“since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda–traces its development from an improbable performance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

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