UPDATE, 6:40 AM with more information: American history just got a little sexier for 20,000 New York City high school students. A $1.46 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation will provide the NYC Department of Education with 20,000 $70 tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s SRO rap-rooted Broadway musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. The tickets will then be distributed to kids at the “Ham4Ham” lottery rate of $10, according to the participants, the other $60 paid for by the grant.
Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller, author-composer-lyricist-star Miranda, Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin, NYC Department of Education chancellor Carmen Fariña and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History executive director Lesley Herrmann created the partnership as a way of integrating the show into classroom studies, they said Tuesday morning. The Rockefeller Foundation grant technically goes to Gilder Lehrman, which will develop ancillary materials for the program and oversee distribution of tickets.
The program, launching with the performance on April 13, 2016, will bring students to select matinees and include talk-backs with the cast as well as classroom prep. Although other programs have emerged in recent years to bring New York City students to Broadway shows at heavily discounted rates or for free, this initiative is taking on the added — and possibly controversial — responsibility of presenting a Broadway show as history lesson. Hamilton is based on Ron Chernow’s celebrated biography of the immigrant Founder, who became the first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington. After a sold-out run last season at the Public Theater, the musical transferred over the summer to the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
With advance ticket sales of some $40 million and most performances sold out well into the future, it has become the biggest phenomenon in years. It’s also — not incidentally and not inappropriately — minting money, regularly grossing well over its gross potential, attributable to the sale of premium-price tickets. The Rockefeller-funded program represents a kind of modest giveback, in which the show’s producers are making tickets available to an otherwise excluded audience while also being paid about half the face value of the tickets.
“Our goal is to ensure that all students have a shot to see Hamilton and use its words, music and staging to further their enjoyment of American History, music and drama,” said Seller, sampling a key phrase from the show.
“The Rockefeller Foundation recognizes Hamilton as a groundbreaking work of genius and everyone should have the opportunity to see it, regardless of their resources,” said Rodin. “This is doubly true of students who are finding their passions and deciding on career paths. Works like this don’t come around very often, and when they do we must make every effort to maximize their reach. We are making a small down payment towards inspiring the next generation of historians, artists, singers and musicians, and it’s one that fits squarely within our goal of expanding opportunities to achieve positive impact.”
Miranda added that, “It is a dream come true to have a program like this exist in connection to Hamilton. I can’t wait to perform for a theater full of students who are learning about our Founding Fathers in class and seeing how it still relates to their own lives on stage. They will see Hamilton’s story, and I’m hopeful that the stories it will inspire in them, will change our lives in ways we can’t even anticipate.”
The first group of participating high schools will be selected by the New York City Department of Education and will include schools across the five boroughs with large numbers of students eligible for free/reduced lunch. The Gilder Lehrman Institute will develop the educational programming for students and teachers.
A “Hamilton Study & Performance Guide” will include an online portal for students and teachers, and printed classroom materials that will offer students a creative platform for developing and producing their own original performances of poetry, rap, songs, scenes and other art expressions.
“Social studies has always been my passion, and this partnership will be transformational for New York City kids,” said Fariña. “This musical will ignite curiosity and give teachers and students the opportunity to experience American History in a unique way while connecting to the class curriculum and will cultivate a deep love of learning. I’m thrilled by this partnership and grateful to Mr. Seller, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for enriching our students’ with this incredible work of art.”