Peoria High School senior Terrell Ford got to show off rap skills and knowledge of American history on one of the biggest stages in Chicago — the CIBC Theatre stage, home to the Chicago run of the hit musical “Hamilton.”
In fact, it was the Hamilton connection that put him on the stage. For the past two years, producer Jeffrey Seller and other creative minds behind the musical worked with New York City’s Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Rockefeller Foundation to set up an educational program that tied into the musical, giving high school students an opportunity to learn more about the American Revolution and catch the performance and greatly reduced prices.
Originally launched in New York during Hamilton’s original run, it expanded to Illinois once the show came to Chicago.
On the morning of May 2, students from Peoria High School joined students from 24 high schools in Chicago area, other parts of Illinois and even neighboring Indiana and Michigan got a chance to ask questions to Hamilton’s Chicago cast, get lunch at downtown Chicago’s iconic Palmer House Hilton hotel and watch the show. And, before all that, students from 15 of those schools got a chance to perform pieces based on what they learned. Ford told the Chronicle that, while he was nervous about performing on this kind of stage, he was happy with the way it turned out — and grateful to get that kind of opportunity at all.
Hamilton Education Program is made up of several components. It starts with students spending several weeks studying Alexander Hamilton, the founding fathers and the history of American Revolution using resources and documents provided by Lehrman Institute. The students also get an opportunity to use what they learn to put together a piece — either a rap, a song, a poem, a skit of a monologue — based on what they learn. Then, the participating classes have a chance to apply for a chance to attend one of 10 matinee performances scheduled for this year.
While the tickets of matinee performances usually cost $70, the program’s corporate sponsors cover $60 of it. And the students who put together the best pieces get to perform their work on the Hamilton stage, in front of all of the students, teachers and the musical’s cast members.
Ford told the Chronicle that, while he isn’t necessarily interested in every aspect of history, he found that the past has plenty of interesting things to teach. He has written some raps in the past, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to write something for the program.
Ford wrote “My Name is Alexander,” a rap about Alexander Hamilton’s life set to the beat of Eminem’s “Real Slim Shady.” But he didn’t realize that the program went beyond his school, so, when his teacher told him that he was chosen to perform, he was shocked.
Ford said he never performed in public venue before. And as he arrived at the theater, the prospect got more and more daunting.
“I was very nervous,” Ford said. “The closer you get to go on stage the more nervous you get. And finally, when I got on stage, I understood that [while] I was nervous, I just had to do my best.”
And he wound up performing without a hitch, earning thunderous applause.
Would he be willing to perform again?
“I would like to perform more, and I want to do a mixtape,” Ford replied. “I’m not sure how I’ll achieve that dream/passion, but that’s definitely something I look forward to.”
As he and his classmates prepared to head for lunch, he told the Chronicle that he was looking forward to the rest of the day.
“I’m excited,” Ford said. “I can’t wait to see what they’re going to perform. It’s going to be great. I’m ready.”
—- Peoria High School senior performs on ‘Hamilton’ stage —