On Sunday, June 12, theater lovers around the country will tune in to watch the Tony Awards. Leading the field with a record sixteen nominations is Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking hip-hop musical about the life of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Combining historically accurate language with modern vernacular, staging critical decisions about the formation of the American nation as rap battles, and making history accessible in a whole new way, Hamilton has already garnered critical acclaim, racking up a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and two Drama League Awards for the 2015-2016 Broadway season.
Not only are critics raving about Hamilton; it’s attracted a broad audience both on- and off-Broadway. Since its 2015 off-Broadway opening, more than 400,000 people have seen it, and only about a quarter of those are from New York. Tickets are sold out through the end of this year. The cast album has gone platinum and, since its release in April, Hamilton: The Revolution, the book containing the show’s libretto with Miranda’s annotations and commentary by Jeremy McCarter, has sold out its first and second printings. Despite the lack of tickets, a devoted fandom has sprung up around the show.
What’s making the story of the ten-dollar founding father so popular?
For one thing, Hamilton has taken steps to be accessible even to those who can’t get to New York (or get tickets once they get there). For most performances, a limited number of seats are sold through a lottery system for $10 each. On matinee days, cast members appear outside the theater to entertain crowds with street performances, often bringing in celebrities to perform. Known as the Ham4Ham Show, it’s recorded and published on YouTube and features familiar faces such as Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, who appeared on May 4 to perform the cantina music Miranda composed for The Force Awakens. Often, Ham4Ham remixes pieces from the show with gender-swapped roles, as when three of the four men who have played King George III appeared as sisters Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy Schuyler, the show’s female leads.
Additionally, the cast and crew are very active on social media. Fans can follow Miranda through his day by watching his Twitter feed, where he regularly engages followers. On the day of the 2016 AP US History exam, he tweeted:
On May 25, Hamilton music director Alex Lacamoire tweeted a video of himself playing a mash-up of Hamilton’s “Burn” with the theme from Game of Thrones, and within an hour, #HamOfThrones was a Twitter trend, generating hundreds of memes, GIFs, and other fan creations.
Miranda refers to Tumblr as “the arts and crafts cabin of the internet,” and he and other cast members regularly take time to praise the numerous blogs and fanworks the show generates. As of this writing, Fanfiction.net and the Archive of Our Own contain a combined 3,500 works based on the fandom.
Hamilton’s take on history makes it ideal for teaching across disciplines. In a recent School Library Journal article, school librarian Addie Matteson detailed several Hamilton-based lessons she used for a fifth-grade class. Teachers may also find lesson fodder in the complex rhyme schemes of the lyrics and use of primary-source material within the show. An entire section of one song is quoted from George Washington’s Farewell Address, which Hamilton wrote. The entire show is sung-through and characterization established through songs; Daveed Diggs, (Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson), notes in Hamilton: The Revolution each character is given a distinct musical style.
Hamilton embraces its place in education. In 2015, thanks to a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, they partnered with the New York City public schools to present special performances to 20,000 students. Many of these students had never been in a theater. In March, the cast went to the White House to perform for the first family and present their educational program to students in Washington, DC.
In a world struggling to integrate diversity into popular culture, Hamilton stands out. Miranda is the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, and the cast is primarily minorities. Led by Miranda, the race-blind casting makes it easy to see history as pertinent to everyone, regardless of race or background.
The story pivots on Hamilton’s “non-stop” rise from penniless immigrant to statesman through his hard work and determination; then chronicles his fall from grace and (spoiler alert!) eventual death in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. This work ethic is also reflected in Miranda’s creative process; he first conceived the idea after reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton on vacation, and the show took over seven years to create. Miranda took great pains to make it as historically accurate as possible, bringing in Chernow to consult.
It also addresses current issues such as race, class, immigration, gun violence, and politics in a way that is fully accessible to contemporary audiences, especially teens.
This past week, Miranda announced he’ll leave the Hamilton cast next month to pursue other projects. His mark on the theater world has already been made, however, and no matter the outcome of the Tony Awards, it’s very clear: Hamilton is here to stay.
— Elizabeth Norton, currently reading The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin and listening to Hamilton
Mental Health Month may be over, but it’s still worth shining a spotlight on teen depression, because it effects people year round. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, recent surveys demonstrate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. At this rate, teen depression has become a critical issue that calls for immediate attention and action. There are many different forms of depression, which include major depression, dysthymia, psychosis, situational depression, and bipolar disorder, a condition that alternates between periods of high spirits and then drops to a low or melancholy state of mind.
Depression can sometimes be tough to diagnose in teens because it is frequently normal for teens to act moody or upset. Adolescence is often a time when teens don’t know how to explain how they are feeling or what they are going through. It can be difficult to determine if they experiencing normal feelings of adolescence or actually displaying symptoms of depression.
Mental Health America (MHA) states that it is not unusual for teens to experience “the blues” or feel “down in the dumps” occasionally. Adolescence is always an unsettling time, with the many physical, emotional, psychological and social changes that accompany this stage of life.
According to the Mayo Clinic there are some common emotional changes that could be possible symptoms of teen depression
- Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
- Feeling hopeless or empty
- Irritable or annoyed mood
- Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
When depressed teens realize that they need help with depression, this can be a major step in the direction of recovery. However, MHA notes that very few teens seek help on their own accord. Teens will need support and encouragement from family and friends to seek out help and follow treatment recommendations. Listed below are a number of resources to facilitate getting more information about teens and depression.
American Psychiatric Association – Healthy Minds
Mental Health America (MHA)
Here is a list of teen realistic fiction books that focus on teens suffering from depression or mental illness and how this affects their lives and the lives of others.
Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman – 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2016 Teens’ Top Ten Best Fiction, 2015 National Book Winner – Challenger Deep is an incredible journey into the mind of a mentally ill young man. Caden Bosch is hospitalized and as the story unfolds we are privy to his delusions. This book is about a teen living in the throws of schizophrenia as the unique and fascinating alter universe he creates in his mind unfolds. However, there is a certain element of depression that surrounds Caden when he is going up and down like a roller coaster dealing with medication and therapy, dropping to the depths of despair and trying to head toward the process of recovery and managing his mental illness. Challenger Deep is a tribute to teens who suffer from mental illness and is a must read for all.
When We Collided by Emery Lord – 2016 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee – Jonah and Vivi are falling for each other deeper and deeper each day. As a couple they can take on the world together, separately they each have their own struggles to overcome. Vivi struggles with bipolar disorder, she suffers from manic ups and downs and doesn’t want to take medication. Jonah’s struggling with the loss of his father, suffering from grief and trying to be there for his mother through her depression. It is very difficult because he can’t miraculously heal her sadness. This is a beautiful love story of two teens going through the process of living with mental illness and how to keep going even when everything seems to be falling apart. Lord’s style personifies real life because living with depression and bipolar disorder is real life for so many teens.
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – 2016 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults – Theodore Finch and Violet Markey were destined to find each other. Each of them are dealing with darkness and despair and each are deeply depressed. Violet for the loss of her older sister in a freak driving accident and Finch due to his abusive father and bleak family life. When the two meet each other on the roof of the school bell tower, both of their lives are changed forever. This is a true love story and a beautiful look into the lives of teens and the reality of mental illness. One of the amazing aspects of this book is the unfolding of Finch and Violet’s relationship and the school project they work on together. I don’t think that I will ever forget haunting notes and clues in this story and the impression that All the Bright Places has left in my mind forever.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – 2010 Best Books for Young Adults – Wintergirls is a very emotional and powerful story about Lia a teenage girl suffering from anorexia. The story written in a realistic journal style, details how depression has affected Lia’s life after dealing with her eating disorder and the death of her best friend Cassie. Anderson’s amazingly haunting writing is compelling from the beginning to the end of this book. She mentions in her forward that she wrote Wintergirls to address how many teens suffer from depression, eating disorders, cutting, and feeling lost. This book hits all of those points and more.
—Kimberli Buckley, currently reading Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
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