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Skyping a Star: Musical Theater learns from Daveed Diggs
Our Musical Theater 3 class had a Skype call with Daveed Diggs, star of Hamilton on Broadway! SJND’s Director of Theater Program, Lauren Rosi, gives the story behind it all:
Like most of the world, my students have succumbed to Hamilton-mania! In October/November, I began questioning them as to why they are so "addicted" - what exactly attracts them to this piece? They shared that, it’s not just that it’s “the music they listen to” - they unanimously said what speaks to them is the immigrant story and seeing people that look like them on stage. It opens their minds to what they are capable of as well as to social and historical stereotypes they weren’t aware of.. With topics of profiling and racism prevalent in our local Bay Area and national news - these kids said they are inspired by the story of a cast who is redefining art, its boundaries and using it as a vehicle for change. After a lot of reflection, I made the decision to throw out a portion of my Musical Theater 3 curriculum in order to create a unit that uses Hamilton as a jumping off point to discuss non-traditional or "color blind" casting and its function, re-viewing history, the future of musical theater, and accessibility of theater to minorities.
I reached out to my friends in the theater community to help me gather resources. On a whim I reached out to Hamilton cast member, and Oakland native, Daveed Diggs. Daveed and I had crossed paths as actors in the Bay Area years ago. I told him the story of my incredible students and this unit I was creating. He immediately responded and enthusiastically agreed to Skype into our classroom to answer my students’ questions. It was obviously a pretty special opportunity to have a current Broadway star speaking to SJND students but the conversation yielded so much more than I could have anticipated. Daveed spoke extensively about how growing up in the Bay Area has defined him as an artist and how he brings Oakland’s culture to his performance in Hamilton. The students were particularly inspired by his repeated message, “do what you believe in, stay grounded and always follow your dreams.”
My class will use the information from Daveed and articles they have read to debate the pros and cons of non-traditional casting.
There have been shows in the past - Rent, Hair, Bring in 'da Noise - that attempted to redefine musical theater. Hamilton is currently having a similar impact.So is it right to infer the future of musical theater is hip hop, or more diverse casting practices,or does the future even matter if the ticket prices exclude so many people? These are the kinds of questions we have been exploring in class.
Thank you Daveed for sharing your time and wisdom with SJND.