The Saturday Read ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

I saw the hat first, ‘A.HAM’ emblazoned on its crown. In the midst of the crowds converging on the campus of the University of Southern California last weekend for the LA Times Festival of Books, a student and her parents were headed to an open house hosted by the School of Dramatic Arts. The black and gold logo was a reminder that the phenomena that is ‘Hamilton’ continues to spark the dreams of the aspiring actor, striving historian, and would-be composer.

First there was Ron Chernow‘s 2004 book, ‘Alexander Hamilton’. Last summer, ‘Hamilton’, the musical debuted on Broadway. In February, the original cast recording won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. This week the ‘Hamiltome’ arrived in bookstores and immediately sold out on Amazon. The Saturday Read is ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.

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In 2007 Jeremy McCarter, then drama critic for New York Magazine, reviewed a new play, ‘In The Heights’ and posed the question “Could musicals actually be adapting to a new century’s audience?”

“The most obvious of the show’s many virtues is that it doesn’t sound like the half-assed pseudo-pop that clutters up Broadway. Miranda’s score is rich and kaleidoscopic, as it needs to be.”

In the Introduction to ‘HTR’, Mr. McCarter reflects on his time at New York Magazine and his frustration with lack of interest in the possibilities of hip-hop.

“After many disappointments and false alarms, Heights had made me sit up in my aisle seat: Here’s the guy. Lin’s show about immigration in Upper Manhattan fused salsa, hip-hop, and traditional Broadway ballads to make something old and new, familiar and surprising. Best of all, he made the leap that virtually nobody else had made, using hip-hop to tell a story that had nothing to do with hip-hop – using it as form, not content.”

The writer, director and producer McCarter, who studied history at Harvard connected with the composer, lyricist, actor and Wesleyan alum, Miranda and began a collaboration that resulted in ‘Hamilton The Revolution’.

“It tells the story of two revolutions. There’s the American Revolution of the 18th century, which flares to life in Lin’s libretto, the complete text of which is published here, with his annotations. There’s also the revolution of the show itself: a musical that changes the way that Broadway sounds, and alters who gets to tell the story of our founding, that let’s us glimpse the new, more diverse America rushing our way.”

IMG_4314.jpgThe book is a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the development of a musical. It’s a narrative of the creative process and a roadmap for future generations who will replicate the production on high school and summer stages.

In an interview with CBS This Morning, Mr. McCarter stressed the importance of cataloging the moments from the first rap performance at the White House through the six years to opening night.

We wanted to “tell the story which is not about this historical fact or that historical fact, it’s about the emotional reality that these people were living through…This is not just what happened, but this is how it felt at the time. This is the experience that we all went through…So that ten years from now when kids are doing it they can pick up this book and say ‘Oh, that’s how they did it’, now I understand.”

Where do we find inspiration? It’s the curiosity thing. Mr.Miranda is the master of the inquisitive. And he seems to drawn on every life experience and relationship to connect the dots to his project. Here’s one example from the annotations to ‘You’ll Be Back’.

“I was having a drink with Hugh Laurie, with whom I’d worked on his series ‘House’, and I told him I wanted to write a breakup letter from King George to the colonies. Without blinking, he improv’d at me, “Awwww, you’ll be back,” wagging his finger. I laughed and filed it away. Thanks, Hugh Laurie.”

IMG_4308.jpgWe learn from the wisdom of others. ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ introduces us to a serious set of theater luminaries and traces each of their stories as the words and music evolve.

@work we casually use the buzz words creativity and innovation interchangeably. We imagine we are all curious, exemplars of transformational thinking. But most of us can’t reimagine our way out of our comfort zone. Creativity is hard work.

‘HTR’ is the story of a musical. Its value, for those who work outside the theater, is to show us where curiosity can lead and what creativity looks like.

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“The last song in the show captures the bitter historical truth that every one of Hamilton’s enemies outlived him, and they did all they could to efface his memory. By ending with Hamilton’s afterlife, not his death, the show asks us to think about what we leave behind when we’re gone: It invites us to think about legacies.”

When Ben Brantley reviewed the musical for the New York Times, he wrote “Hamilton” is, among other things, about who owns history, who gets to be in charge of the narrative.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter own ‘HTR’, their story, and leave no doubt about who is in charge of the narrative.

“Who tells your story?”

 

 

 

 

 

The Holiday Read – ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow

Have you just entered the chaos of holiday travel at your local airport, and realized you forgot to bring something along to read? Quick, before you lose the wi-fi, download this week’s Saturday/Holiday read, ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow.

This was the year American history left boring behind with the staging of the Broadway musical Hamilton. Based on Chernow’s 2004 best seller, Lin-Manuel Miranda transformed a casual airport bookstore purchase into a hip hop score, reflecting contemporary themes of immigration, revolution and finance. This holiday break is the perfect time to dive into the 700+ page biography.

David Brooksreview summarized why Hamilton had come to be erased from the national memory, to the point we are about to eliminate his last vestige on the ten dollar bill.

“He is the most neglected, first because he was a relentless climber (and nobody has unalloyed views about ambition), second because he was a great champion of commerce (and nobody has uncomplicated views about that either) and third because his most bitter rivals, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, outlived him by decades and did everything they could to bury his reputation. So there is no Hamilton monument in Washington, but at least we now have Ron Chernow’s moving and masterly ”Alexander Hamilton,” which is by far the best biography ever written about the man.”

With the presidential primary season looming, ‘Alexander Hamilton’ is a reminder that current political tactics don’t fall far from the founders’ tree.

“In the polarized atmosphere of American politics, Burr knew that a northern renegade aligned with southern Republicans could provide a critical swing. This was Alexander Hamilton’s recurring nightmare: an electoral deal struck between Virginia and New York Republicans.

In the New York City elections that spring (1800), Hamilton and Burr descended from the lofty heights to spar in the grit and bustle of lower Manhattan ward politics…

That April, New Yorkers out for a stroll could have stumbled upon either Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr addressing crowds on street corners, sometimes alternating on the same platform.”

Hamilton lost, the Republican slate swept New York City, the Federalists were out and the road was paved for a Jefferson presidency.

Which brings us to a reader, like you, going on holiday, picking up a book in an airport bookstore, and the rest is, well, history.

“He told me as he was reading the book, hip-hop lyrics started rising off the page. I was completely astonished by his response.”

Miranda assured him that he was serious.

“He made a complete believer out of me,” Chernow said. “The story of Alexander Hamilton lends itself to hip-hop treatment. Hamilton’s personality is driven and unrelenting, and the music has that same quality. The music and the man mirror each other.”

Miranda purchased theatrical rights to the book and signed on Chernow as historical consultant.

“A lot of people might have started off with the unspoken assumption that history is boring — Lin-Manuel Miranda felt exactly the opposite,” Chernow said. “He felt the most dramatic way to tell the story was to stick to the facts. He felt the story was so sensational you couldn’t improve on it.”

Spend some time this holiday with the ‘sensational’ Alexander Hamilton.

 

The week@work – A school for watchmakers, innovations in teaching, #OptOutside and other leadership stories

The theme of the past week@work was innovation: creating a school for those who work with their hands, teaching history through theater on Broadway, using video games to modernize MBA education and opting out to #OptOutside.

CBS News produced a segment on luxury brand watchmaker, Patek Philippe and the creation of a school for watchmakers in New York to meet a growing customer demand for craftsmanship in a digital age. “…the 175-year-old company decided to open its own watch school at its New York City offices.

Around 300 people applied; six were chosen. for their temperament as much as for their technical aptitude. So what personal characteristics does Patek Philippe look for in order to select students?

“We need people who are committed, so commitment is a big quality,” replied master watchmaker Laurent Junod, who heads the school. Plus, “Patience, of course.”

“We do a training program here that is two years long. But the learning is not finished. You have to learn all your life.”

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The program provides an alternative career for those who seek to work with their hands. “The school is free. Students are paid a small stipend to cover expenses.

Gaman Kwok had been tutoring elementary school kids. “If somebody told me that I will be training to be a watchmaker a year ago, I would, look at them like, ‘What? Really?'”

Juan Alonzo was working at a men’s clothing store. “I want to be as good as Laurent!” he said of his ambition.

At the end of the course — if they pass their exams — Patek Philippe will hire them. They’ll move on to a lifetime of silence, and precision, and learning.”

Do you think they get an employee discount?

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There is a play on Broadway about our founding fathers, one in particular, Alexander Hamilton. ‘Hamilton’ is a hip hop musical retelling of the story of an immigrant who rose to become a force in the building of a new nation. It is based on Ron Chernow’s 818 page biography published in 2004. How many eleventh graders do you think would read an 818 page biography? How many teachers could find the time to read the same?

Sounds like an opportunity to innovate. This week the producers and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a partnership to provide 20,000 New York City eleventh graders with a chance to attend a performance and continue the learning.“The curriculum will be put together by the nonprofit Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which plans to create a website with copies of the primary documents that undergird the book and lyrics, and teaching materials about Hamilton and the founding fathers. Students will be invited to create and share their own artistic responses to Hamilton’s life.”

Think about this – 20,000 students who probably have never had access to the lights of Broadway will now be sitting in orchestra seats for one of the most important and creative plays staged in recent memory. And, it’s about history.

“Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of “Hamilton,” said that he was frequently asked at the stage door how the show, which is both costly to attend and often sold out, could be made more accessible to young people, and he said finding a way to do that has been a priority for him. Mr. Miranda, 35, is a graduate of the Hunter College elementary and high schools for gifted students in New York City.

“If we can excite curiosity in students, there’s no telling what can happen next,” he said. “Not to say we’re going to make 1,300 history majors or 1,300 musical theater writers every time we do the show, but hopefully they will take away how much Hamilton did with his life in the time that he had.”

No telling what can happen next..

Shane Ferro, business journalist for the Huffington Post reported on a new video game, ‘One Day’, being developed for MBA students at the Hult International Business School.

“While it is now fairly common for video games to teach elementary concepts — spelling, basic math, typing — higher education has more or less resisted encroaching technology up to this point. Until recently, higher-level concepts have been harder to program because there may be more than one right answer. “One Day,” which its creators say is the first game of its kind, poses some fairly new questions about learning in the digital age and the role of the professor in a modern classroom.

“I’ve been a business school professor for 30 years,” said John Beck, whose educational consulting company, North Star Leadership Group, developed “One Day.” He lamented that most MBA programs rely on teaching methods honed decades before the personal computing revolution. “For 30 years I’ve been thinking the system is so broken. The case studies model dates from the 1920s, and the lecture model from the 1850s.”

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The day after Thanksgiving, previously known as ‘Black Friday’, now carries a new hashtag courtesy of the leadership team at retailer REI. #OptOutside is a campaign to encourage folks to leave the shopping behind, enjoy the outdoors and share their experience on social media.

“REI is hoping to convince consumers to start a new Black Friday tradition, one that doesn’t involve buying anything. It has built a dedicated #OptOutside website with resources on local hiking trails. REI’s campaign was built with its employees and customers in mind — the company operates as a co-op, with roughly 5.5 million members who pay a one-time fee for a share of the business. Members contribute to at least 80% of REI’s sales.

The decision to close on Black Friday is bold in an industry that has practically made the day a mandatory part of business, not only because customers demand it, but because the bottom line often does, too. The holiday shopping season is the biggest, and most competitive, time of year for retailers, with Black Friday at the center of the hoopla.”

And while we are on the subject of leadership, here are two articles you might find interesting:

‘Giving More Corporate Chiefs the Steve Jobs Treatment’ Nitin Nohira “I worry that we’re too quick to forget the accomplishments of great business leaders, and that if the people leading companies felt some solace that their long-term legacies might warrant a more careful evaluation, as is now occurring around Steve Jobs, they might make very different decisions.”

‘How Not to Flunk at Failure’ John Danner & Mark Coopersmith “Failure is a strategic resource. Like the people you employ, the money you spend or the facilities and technologies you use, it has unique intrinsic value if you’re open and wise enough to manage it as such. Treat it like unrefined ore that needs to be processed and examined to reveal its riches. Failure is reality’s way of showing you what you don’t yet know, but need to learn. It contains the seeds of precisely the insight you’ve been looking for, if you have the honesty and humility to explore those secrets.”

The Power of Taking a Break & the Unexpected Inspiration of Reading

On Sunday tickets will go on sale for the musical ‘Hamilton’ as it moves from the Public Theater in New York to begin it’s Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers in mid July. It’s off Broadway performances which began last month, have received positive reviews from theater critics for its’ unique staging and musical interpretation of the life of Alexander Hamilton.

So why the theater update on a blog about work?  The New Yorker staff writer, Rebecca Mead answers in her profile of writer, composer and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda. He was on vacation in Mexico 2009 “…and while bobbing in the pool on an inflatable lounger he started to read a book that he bought on impulse: Ron Chernow’s eight-hundred-page biography of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda was seized by the story of Hamilton’s early life. Born out of wedlock, raised in poverty in St. Croix, abandoned by his father, and orphaned by his mother as a child, Hamilton transplanted himself as an adolescent to a New York City filled with revolutionary fervor…”

If Mr. Miranda had not been on vacation, taking time away from work, we may have been deprived of his creativity and ability to connect the dots as he developed his perspective for the play: “Miranda saw Hamilton’s relentlessness, brilliance, linguistic dexterity, and self-destructive stubbornness through his own idiosyncratic lens. It was, he thought, a hip-hop story, and immigrant’s story.”

Ms. Mead’s article tells the story of the evolution of Mr. Miranda’s career, the development of ‘Hamilton’, and the connections he has made along the way with mentors and creative partnerships.

Sometimes we think creativity belongs to the artist and we struggle to find opportunities to relate to our own workplace. But creativity is about imagination and storytelling our way to solving a problem.  Taking time away allows for a different view. If we are open to the unexpected we can connect the dots and reframe the narrative. And, maybe be online Sunday to buy tickets and see how it’s done.