When Hamilton made its stop in Tulsa, fans packed Chapman Music Hall for nearly three weeks straight to experience the musical phenomenon firsthand. It was in a far smaller theater, however, that a few of the actors may have had the greatest impact.
On a Wednesday afternoon at Central High School, students packed into the black box theater uncertain of what was to come. They were greeted by Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist who warmed up the group with a bit of discussion about the show and a highlight reel of the performances. Then, a few surprise guests strolled into the room: Hamilton cast members Warren Egypt Franklin, Nicole deRoux, and Eean Cochran.
After Principal Jason Gilley asked them a few questions to get started, the microphone was turned over to the students. The room was filled with aspiring performers, and they did not throw away their shot to ask professionals how they got where they are now.
“You're going to get 100 ‘nos’ before you get a ‘yes,’ but that's going to make the ‘yes’ so much more rewarding,” said Warren, who plays Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the show. “If it's something that you really want to do, don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it, that you're not right for it. I've been told that before and I go in and I keep going until I change their minds. So, you just have to persevere.”
Warren shared with the students that he didn’t have any real dance training until he attended an arts high school – a path that may feel familiar to the students at Central, which has a strong performing arts program.
One student asked if it was harder to get cast in shows as a person of color – a barrier that Hamilton works to break through by choosing a very diverse group of actors regardless of the roles they are playing.
“Hamilton just had its four-year anniversary on Broadway. Four years, we didn't see this many people of color in roles. I play two white men on stage. Take that back four years ago before Hamilton came out and it would be unheard of. People would call it silly. People would call it stupid. Now it's the highest grossing musical of all time,” said Warren. “I think because of shows like Hamilton we have more opportunities as artists of color to do things other than just – and I love these shows – The Color Purple, other than just Dreamgirls, other than where black people can just play slaves. We can own things; we can be the CEOs of enterprises. I think shows like Hamilton have just opened the doors for that.”
“Now there is more access to it because people see there’s many stories that are happening that you cannot turn your face away from with our face and our color on it. So, we have to tell that story,” said Eean, who steps into several roles as needed. “If you can’t see yourself in something, make it. Build it. Create it from the bottom up. Find somebody that aligns with you. Write it and do it. That’s what Lin did.”
“You don't even know what the next big show is, and it could be meant for all of us. It's never been a better time,” added Nicole, an ensemble performer in Hamilton.
The students were asked if any of them had a chance to see the show. While some were familiar with the music, none had been able to get tickets. Quincy, a teacher at Central, wrapped up the Q and A session with a key question: Why is it important for students of color to see theater?
“That’s very, very, very important. As a student of color when I was in high school if I was seeing this type of show on stage – wait – you can rap and sing and dance and be black? All in one show? That would have inspired me so much more. Ya’ll are way more important than any average adult that comes to see the show because ya’ll are going to write the next Hamilton,” said Warren.