Who Lives, Dies, Who Tells Your Story

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1 Who Lives, Dies, Who Tells Your Story American Experience Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Jon Tures A TED talk titled, Framing the Story provides an incredible perspective of the impact stories can have in our lives. Stories ignite our imagination; they let us leap over cultural walls and cross the barriers of time. Stories affirm who we are, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and others, real or imagined ( Framing the Story ). By telling a story, we share a moment of ourselves with another person. We use it as a tool of connecting, as a way to hold true to values, as a warning to generations to come, and as a way to keep the past alive. In Lin Manuel Miranda s new musical, Hamilton, a verse from one of the songs says, Remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you (Miranda). That powerful verse just goes to show what a huge impact storytelling has in our lives. When we talk about personal narratives, we are talking about stories that have happened in the past, and we relive them through our storytelling and reenactment of the event. Stories are remembered and entertain an audience when the audience can relate to it in one way or another. Many people know of Alexander Hamilton, but perhaps not his full story. The musical Hamilton has taken this man s story and has brought this incredible narrative to a contemporary audience through the musical style of rap. By finding a musical outlet to connect to the current audience, Lin Manuel Miranda was able to tell Alexander Hamilton s story in an unforgettable way. In order to fully understand what Miranda has done in this musical, one must first understand the story the musical tells. Lin Manuel Miranda actually starts by giving the audience

2 a brief synopsis of Hamilton s life. The opening song describes an orphan who made a bigger impact than anyone could have imagined. There is an incredible description of this human that the audience sees and it isn t until halfway through the number that Alexander Hamilton comes out onstage and says his name for the first time. As the song progresses, the audience is introduced to the rest of the characters and their relationship with him. The song says, We fought with him. Me. I died for him. Me. I trusted him. Me. I loved him. And me. I m the damn fool that shot him (Miranda). The audience is immediately thrusted into Alexander s world and anxiously awaits the unravelling of the story. Lin Manuel Miranda tells of a man who came from very little and yet would stop at nothing for his country and what he believed in. The audience is introduced to Aaron Burr and Marquis de Lafayette, who played a significant role in Alexander s story. They also meet General George Washington, of whom Alexander very quickly becomes the right hand man. Then, Alexander meets Elizabeth Schuyler. They were introduced by Elizabeth s older sister, Angelica. The audience is let in on a little secret: Angelica loves Alexander, but because she is the oldest and must marry rich, she introduces him to her sister so at least [she] keeps his eyes in [her] life (Miranda). As the story unfolds, Alexander moves up in his career and becomes well-known by many. He is so driven by what he is doing and is never satisfied. He thinks more can always be done. People say that no matter what he does, he does it like he s running out of time. There was a plan created by Alexander Hamilton and two other men to write twenty-five essays creating a new Constitution, which would be known as the Federalist Papers. In the end, eighty-five essays were written and fifty-one of them were written by Hamilton. While Alexander Hamilton s political career continues to take off, his family life begins to crumble.

3 Hamilton had an affair and the woman s husband blackmailed him. Some of the men in politics come to Hamilton about the amounts of money he has been withdrawing because they believe he is stealing money from Congress. Alexander ends up publishing the letters he and his mistress shared in order to prove that he may not be a great husband, but that he would never do anything to hurt the United States. It doesn t stop there though. His oldest son is killed in a duel, defending Alexander s name. As Alexander and Elizabeth are finally starting to pick up the pieces, he is called in to make a statement on the race to become the next president between Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton declares that his vote is for Jefferson because Burr doesn t have any values. This ends up hurting Burr in the election because the people vote Jefferson for president. Burr then challenges Alexander to a duel. However, Burr ended up scaring himself and firing at Alexander, when Alexander was trying to call a truce. That was Alexander Hamilton s last breath. In the final song, Eliza describes how she has written herself back into his story (Miranda). She talks to all of the soldiers that fought beside Alexander and writes down everything about his life and tells his story. She says her favorite thing she has done is open up the first orphanage in New York, in his honor, and that every child that comes through, reminds her of him. Within two and a half hours of watching and listening to this story unfold, you laugh, you stare in disbelief, you cry as your heart breaks, you get the breath knocked out of you, and you have experienced the life of Alexander Hamilton. While that may sound far stretched and maybe even a little bit crazy, it is the truth. Lin-Manuel Miranda has created something so special and so captivating that you almost can t believe it is a real story. However, this happened because of

4 the way he told the story. The facts of the story are all true. Miranda based the musical on the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. He didn t make up facts to make the story more interesting. He just told the story in a way that was more relatable than typed words on pieces of bound paper. There are a couple of reasons why Miranda s telling of the story had such an impact. The first reason is because he made Alexander and the people in his life real. He didn t just tell about the political impact Hamilton had. If he had done that, then maybe only history majors would have enjoyed the show. Instead, he included moments of communications with soldiers, private moments with Hamilton and his wife, a conversation with his son, and his love story. While all of those things make the story interesting, it doesn t become real until Lin-Manuel Miranda also includes Hamilton s darkest moments, his mistakes, and his wrong doings. As humans, when we get to see other s mistakes, for some reason we relate to them more; because maybe we have made the same mistake or thought the same as them and just never said it or showed it. However, Miranda didn t stop there. He completed the story and made the audience realize why the story was told in the first place. It s because we don t get to decide, who lives, who dies, who tells our story (Miranda). A story will always be told because there is always one to tell. It is all in the way we tell it and how we keep people and things alive when we do so. The other reason Hamilton has had such a huge impact in the world right now is because of his use of rap in this musical. He uses very mainstream and contemporary sounding music to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton. Rap is basically speaking in rhythm. So while rap is a style of music, it is also a form of storytelling. The only difference is that instead of just talking freely, the person is speaking to line up with a beat. Stephen Sondheim, a famous American

5 lyricist and composer, responsible for writing musicals such as Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods, says, Of all the forms of contemporary pop music, rap is the closest to traditional musical theatre, both in its vamp-heavy rhythmic drive and in its verbal playfulness (Sondheim). Rap has been around for much longer than we think and is just now becoming popular with this particular generation. By connecting to an audience by using a mainstream musical sound, Lin-Manuel Miranda connected and shared Hamilton s story with more people than a history book ever could. Stephen Sondheim describes Miranda s work as one pathway to the future, and that s exactly what he has done (Sondheim). He increased the audience base, exposed more people to our history, connected with people in a new way, and revolutionized musical theatre and storytelling. The American Experience class is geared toward opening our minds up to new perspectives and interpretations of the world around us today and the history we have built upon to get us here. Hamilton encompasses so much of this because it takes history and storytelling and contemporary elements and puts it out there for the world to relate to in more ways than just one. In America: The Story of Us, we watched some of the events that were important to Alexander Hamilton s story in the form of film as opposed to watching it onstage or listening to it through music. America: The Story of Us covered the Battle of Yorktown, which Hamilton led, the Revolutionary war, which he was a part of, and the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which he devoted a lot of his life to supporting or tweaking to make better. In class, we were able to see and look at different components of Alexander Hamilton s life, just through a different type of media: film. When you step back and look at this from a storytelling

6 perspective, that s exactly what this is. It s telling the same story, just in a different way and with a different perspective. Obviously, this musical connects greatly to the storytelling that we have talked about in class, but I was also able to come up with a theory that goes hand in hand with Miranda s incredible work. My theory is that the way a story is told determines how long that story can stay alive and how many people become interested in a simple story. In this case, the independent variable would be the way a story is told (reading it from a book, listening to someone read or tell a story aloud, watching a story unfold in a performance or movie, or listening to a story being told through music). The dependent variable would be how much of the story a person absorbed or if the person now knows the story well enough to repeat it or if they just read, saw, or listened to a story and didn t really take anything away from the experience. I would predict that this theory would show a positive correlation. I think that the more connected and involved an audience member is in the storytelling itself, the more the story is retained and passed along and the less connected the audience is, the less chance there is of the story spreading. If I wanted to look at it more specifically and focus on the contemporary music and rap aspect that Lin-Manuel Miranda uses in Hamilton, I would hypothesize that by using elements of mainstream media, music, and our everyday lives to tell a story, those stories would become more widespread and accepted. This could be tested by using Hamilton and asking the group of people who have seen the show or heard the music, if they knew the story of Alexander Hamilton before this show. In this case, the independent variable would be if a person has seen Hamilton or listened to the soundtrack or if they don t know anything about the show. The dependent variable would be if people know the story of Alexander Hamilton. My prediction is

7 that people who have seen or listened to Hamilton know more about the story of Alexander Hamilton than those who haven t seen or listened to the show. If after looking at the data collected, this happened to be the case, then this would represent a positive correlation. It would suggest that the more people exposed to Hamilton, the more people knew about the life of Alexander Hamilton and the more people who haven t been exposed, the more people didn t know about Hamilton. If I were to test this hypothesis, I would create a survey that asked if the person had seen or listened to Hamilton and how much the person knew about Alexander Hamilton. I would have to make sure that I expanded the pool of people surveyed beyond just the campus students. I would need to also survey the faculty and people who weren t on campus or who weren t so closely tied to education. I think it would also be very interesting to use a previous generation as a control group and compare it to the results from this generation, who is so heavily influenced by most of the components that Miranda used in his story telling. On a much larger scale, my hypothesis has already been partially supported. There was a play of Hamilton s life produced in Unlike Lin-Manuel Miranda s Hamilton, this version only contained Hamilton s involvement in politics and the battles that he was a part of. This production was also a straight play containing no music. The play version of Hamilton opened September 17, 1917 at the Knickerbocker Theatre and ran two months (Viagas). Miranda s Hamilton has been running since January of 2015 and continues to sell out performances in New York. The cast of Hamilton is set to start touring in Both of these shows are about the same man and are based on the same facts, but one has done monumentally better than the other. The main differences between the two comes down to the personal details and the music,

8 supporting the fact that the way a story is told will make a difference when talking about the popularity and understanding of that story. Lin-Manuel Miranda has created something very special with Hamilton. He has started a new form of storytelling. Miranda has found a way to make history relatable and interesting and important to more people. He has started a revolution of musical theatre and has created endless possibilities for what is to come in the future. Lin-Manuel Miranda had a story that needed to be told. Works Cited "Framing The Story : TED Radio Hour : NPR." Npr. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct Miranda, Lin-Manuel. Hamilton: An American Musical Sondheim, Stephen. Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics ( ) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Print. "Stephen Sondheim - Songwriter, Writer - Biography.com." The Biography.com Website. A&E Publishing Networks, 23 Nov Web. 21 Oct Viagas, Robert. "Exclusive: Compare Hamilton (2015) with Hamilton (1917): First Publication of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Lyrics Playbill." Playbill. N.p., 13 Mar Web. 25 Sept

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