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‘Hamilton’ brings history to life for Pittsburgh-area students |
Valley News Dispatch

‘Hamilton’ brings history to life for Pittsburgh-area students

Tom Davidson
| Wednesday, January 23, 2019 1:30 a.m

Hamilton Rap

“Hamilton” is more than a hit musical for more than 2,700 students in the region who’ve earned a spot to be in the room where it happens — the Benedum Center — on Friday.

They include 55 students at Valley High School in New Kensington who have been studying the events depicted in “Hamilton” in their classes and who completed research projects that were more than usual American history lessons.

“It’s amazing,” said Erika Felack-Bucci, an English, reading and journalism teacher in the district. “It’s opened up a world of history and a world of theater to kids who didn’t have the biggest interest.”

She’s been a fan of “Hamilton” since it became a Broadway sensation — and when she learned about the Hamilton Education Program, she pursued getting her school involved in it.

“We were lucky enough to get chosen,” Felack-Bucci said.

The program is a partnership of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the producers of “Hamilton” and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who wrote the musical.

It aims to make the lessons behind “Hamilton” come alive for students in low-income school districts.

“Our goal is to ensure students have a shot to see ‘Hamilton’ and use its words, music and staging to further their understanding and enjoyment of American history, music and drama,” the show’s producer, Jeffrey Seller, said in a news release.

It’s worked at Valley, Felack-Bucci said, and students are excited about seeing Friday’s matinee performance, getting the chance to meet the cast and share what they’ve learned with the performers.

“I’m grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Valley senior Sam Barca said.

“I cried when I found out we were going to ‘Hamilton,’ ” said Kamryn Conwell, a sophomore. “I’ve been a fan of it since Mrs. Felack-Bucci taught us alliteration in my eighth-grade English class. Now, I actually get to go see it.”

In completing their research projects, the students “had to go through the process Lin-Manuel went through” in writing “Hamilton.”

They sought out original source material from early American history and then composed a song/poem/rap about it.

“Writing our rap was a hard process, trying to get the lyrics to match the beats and songs,” senior Michael Saliba said. “But, once we got the main idea of our song, we put the puzzle pieces together and we were really happy with the final product.

“Going to the musical is a great reward for the hard work.”

Studying the world of Hamilton as presented by Miranda resonated with the kids. For the uninitiated, “Hamilton” is a whirlwind of rap, R&B, soul and Americana that paints a more diverse picture of history than the one conjured by textbooks. And it does it in a way that’s proven to be accessible to people of all backgrounds.

“We’ve gotten boys involved that don’t like (musicals),” Felack-Bucci said. “It’s not just old, white guys on a stage.”

Gateway students to attend, too

Gateway High School students are also getting a chance to see Friday’s show. Mark Wallace, a high school social studies teacher, said 98 students will go downtown after another school backed out of the program.

Two of the 98 students – juniors Madelynn Smith and Jillian Blackburn – will perform before the matinee. The pair worked as a group in Gilder’s competition.

“They did a rap on the Declaration of Independence,” Wallace said. “They were selected, basically, immediately.”

Wallace said he is proud of all the students who participated in the program, which he called a good learning tool for high school students.

“They were working with primary evidence to get a message out. Fundamentally, that’s what (history teachers) want them to do, so it’s been a good exercise. It’s what we call in the history teaching business, ‘doing history.’ They’re doing something with it,” he said.

Uniontown High School senior Emilee Friend will be among the students performing for their peers at the post-show program, according to Uniontown history teacher Heather Pearson.

While the Hamilton education program material can be integrated into classroom curriculum, “ours was done in an extracurricular way,” Pearson said. “Our students received the workbook for the program and were given deadlines to complete the material.”

Friend will perform a piece Pearson said was best described as spoken-word, about British etiquette.

Pearson said her students enjoyed the concept behind “Hamilton.”

“We all thought the concept of the musical and how you make history relatable with modern music was really engaging,” she said.

Tribune-Review staff writers Dillon Carr and Patrick Varine contributed. Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-487-7208, or via Twitter @TribDavidson. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, or via Twitter .

Valley High School seniors Auveonna Perkins and Lauren Schrock rap a song about the Boston Massacre they co-wrote in an English class. The song was entered in a competition to win tickets to Hamilton. The song won and will be performed by the students Friday at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh for the cast of the hit musical.
Joan Marcus
The cast of “Hamilton,” starring Auston Scott in the title role.
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