Why Hamilton the musical is all about communication
It’s my Hamilversary! My what? Well, as my team will tell you (sorry teamies!), I have been obsessed with the musical Hamilton since first seeing it in May 2018.
Hamilton tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton; his rise and subsequent fall. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison and other key figures from the 17 and 1800s all feature alongside Hamilton – some friends, some enemies; some who support his vision for the newly-independent America; some who want to stop his progress.
So far, so dull… but what makes this show shine is its format – it’s completely sung-through with no dialogue and the music is rap, gospel, ragtime – and its diversity. The writer, Puerto Rican Lin Manuel Miranda, could not see himself represented on the stage so took a story of ‘America then’ and re-played it to reflect ‘America today’. All the main characters are played by black and brown actors and, in London’s West End at least, the cast is mainly young with many actors making their debuts after graduating only recently.
I saw the show knowing nothing about it and bought my ticket on a whim when staying overnight in London. Three hours later I knew I’d found something I’d return to. I also found that I couldn’t shake the themes of the story. I’ve recently done some work to explore my values with Jackie Le Fevre (follow her on Twitter @MagmaEffect) and the things that are important to me were right up there on that stage: initiating action, sharing my talents to serve others, and achieving a vision.
Not only does the Hamilton story speak to my values, it contains many ‘a-ha’ moments for communicators.
‘Legacy – what is a legacy?’
A recurring theme of Hamilton is the notion of creating something new – thoughts of death and legacy form repeated lyrics for several characters. Two of my values are about accomplishing something noteworthy in my work and committing to a cause. Even my boss has used the phrase ‘leave a legacy’ when we’ve been discussing what drives me at work.
And on a related theme…
‘Who tells your story?’
Where do I start with this one? It’s the flame that must be passed on to be kept alive. It’s the tales they will tell about you when you’re gone. It’s your achievements that stand long after you. For communicators, three points:
- The best CEOs I’ve worked with have a sense that they are only curators, here for a limited time. As leaders they are both proud and humble, recognising that they will pass their leadership on but the organisation will continue. They want to guide the company on its path as best they can for a much longer term future.
- What stories – whose stories? – do we tell in our channels? Hopefully the days of top-down management mouthpieces are long gone and have been replaced with more voices, more experiences of the colleagues who are really where our brands are built and who make things happen every day.
- What are you known for in your organisation? A personal brand is ‘what people say about you when you’re not in the room’. Does that match with what you want people to know about you?
‘Do not throw away your shot’
The story of Hamilton is the story of a man who made his own way in a world that was changing around him. An immigrant of illegitimate birth (‘a bastard, orphan, son of a whore’ to boot) he didn’t spend time wondering why he didn’t have a seat at the table. He found his own table, got alongside the right people, and shaped the country and culture he wanted to see.
See also ‘The Room Where It Happens’, a number that shows how decisions are made and the frustration of not being part of them. Sound familiar? Pull up your own chair!
‘Include women in the sequel’
The 1700s and therefore the musical are not a place where women have equality. But Angelica Schuyler, while knowing her place and the limits of her sex in that time, nonetheless manages to influence as a confidante and ally. Quoting the Declaration of Independence, she sings ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident / That all men are created equal / And when I meet Thomas Jefferson / Imma compel him to include women in the sequel #work’.
Fast forward to 2019 and inclusion and diversity are high on the agenda. As communicators, we have to make sure that everything we produce is accessible. We also sit alongside HR in leading our organisation’s work to improve the range of people within the workforce. The links between diversity, innovation, productivity and performance are well documented and who better than IC pros to make sure all those different voices are heard.
‘In a letter I received from you two weeks ago
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase
It changed the meaning; did you intend this?
One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days
It says ‘My dearest Angelica’
With a comma after dearest
You’ve written ‘My dearest, Angelica.’
Cue tears, both for unrequited love and the importance of grammar.
‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’
AKA find your happy – and make time for it. Not only a line from the show, but something it reminded me. I realised I’d lost balance in my life and my (very enjoyable) job had become my only focus. I needed to get back to something that was distracting, fun and out of the routine. My monthly trips to Hamilton have given me that. And an excuse to cry in the dark with a load of strangers. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!
With thanks to Kerry Sheehan for inviting me to the show with her; Annique Simpson for joining me on the front row when I won the daily ticket lottery; and my team for putting up with my ability to talk about Hamilton in any given situation. Can’t wait to share it with some of the team in June. Bring tissues.
Hamilton is at the Victoria Palace theatre and currently booking to September 2019.