Hamilton: Not Throwing Away My Shot

The story of how I got to play guitar for an audience of 2600 on a school field trip.

My shot! Caleb Slater takes his shot performing in front of 2,600 people at the Orpheum theatre.

Caleb Slater, Co-Editor in Chief

I sat center-stage at the Orpheum in Minneapolis with my guitar and a microphone, performing for roughly 2600 people from across the mid-west. Not only was the Orpheum packed full of students excited to see the Tony-Award-winning musical “Hamilton”, but the audience also had a few special guests: cast members from the musical itself. 

Crazy, right?  

A few weeks ago, I was told I would have the opportunity to see “Hamilton” in Minnesota with 149 other classmates for the incredibly-low price of ten dollars. The only other qualifier was that I needed to turn in an art-related project on the revolutionary war, the period in which the musical takes place.  

I decided to write a rap song on Shays’ rebellion, an event in 1786 in which a veteran named Daniel Shays thought taxes in Massachusetts were too high. In this rap song, I used direct quotes from both the musical and from historical documents provided from Gilder Lehrman, the organization that allowed my classmates and myself to take advantage of the opportunity. 

I found out about a week before the show that I, along with 12 other groups from both Minnesota and Northern Iowa, had been chosen to perform my project ahead of the feature performance.  

After the four-hour long bus ride from Des Moines to Minneapolis, I was escorted to the back of the Orpheum, separated from my classmates. Upon entrance, I was greeted by many backstage assistants and tech managers for the show.  

And then I saw Thomas Jefferson himself. 

Okay, not really. He’s dead. However, I did spot Kyle Scarliffe, the extremely tall gentleman who portrays the third U.S. President in the musical, along with Elijah Malcomb, who plays John Laurens, and Fergie L. Phillipe, who plays James Madison. They all personally introduced themselves to each student present and made sure we were comfortable and ready to perform. 

Before going onstage, the three cast members had the students form a circle and join hands to do what many high school theater students know as ‘the pulse’. One person squeezes the hand of the next person in the circle, who then does the same with their own other hand, creating an intimate ‘pulse’ that circulates to ease nerves before a performance. 

Malcomb spoke to us performers about being confident and being proud of ourselves for accomplishing what we had. One of the cast members pointed out that our generation will be the ones in charge one day, reminding us how important our voices are. 

When it was time for my turn to go on stage, the stage manager in the back and another performer both wished me luck. I walked to the center, taking a seat at the stool they had set for me, as I listened to the screams of my friends from the balcony. 

“I’d just like to point out two things,” I said, “First of all, I’m not a rapper.” The audience laughed. I then pointed out that my song was not entirely historically accurate. “Snap along if you’d like,” I joked. 

And then, for a minute and fifty-one seconds, I sat center-stage in front of 2600 people, singing and rapping about history. 

The audience cheered as I left the stage. I vaguely heard someone from the cast behind me talking about how great he thought I did, although I couldn’t tell who said it. I was packing my guitar and rushing to my seat, so I could see the rest of the performances. 

After the student acts were finished, the three cast members were joined by many other cast members and tech workers for a Q&A session, in which they talked about a wide range of topics: from the state of our current political climate, to what life is like as a touring performer.  

The show itself followed later in the day and, as was to be expected, it was fantastic. From the pump-up-anthems like “My Shot”, to tear-jerkers like “It’s Quiet Uptown”, there was never a dull moment and I was never bored. 

My classmates and I spent the four-hour drive home raving about what we’d seen. It was definitely a day to remember. 

I’m glad I didn’t throw away my shot.