Questioning Arts and Culture: Hamilton and the Future of Live Theatre

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I’m as partial to a good bit of theatre as the next person, but, not being a particular musical buff, I’ll admit I’d never actually heard of Hamilton until I started university – suddenly the whole world was talking about this mysterious play about America’s Founding Fathers! Although I was intrigued by the concept, Hamilton remained somewhat in the back of my mind. In the end, it was a lockdown ‘watch-along’ with LUsing and the ‘benevolence’ of Disney plus (no free trial just as Hamilton was released… really…) that led me to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s History inspired masterpiece.

Effortlessly using popular rap, hip-hop culture references, and complex rhyme to highlight the politics of characters and countries, Miranda delivers the story of the American Revolution in a way that’s both hilariously entertaining and at times gut-wrenchingly raw and relatable. His interpretation of the historical figures makes them instantly human, with everyday lives and struggles, rather than the distant heroes of history book pages. From a cabinet meeting staged as a rap battle, to King George’s hilarious song ‘You’ll Be Back’, cleverly showing him to be behind the times as it’s 1960’s vibe contrasts with the rest of the performances, the play has layers of musical genius to be unravelled. It’s well worth a re-watch with subtitles to fully appreciate Miranda’s lyrical prowess.

The enjoyment of watching the play curled up under a blanket with a cuppa got me thinking. Sometimes the screen can be a poor substitute, but Coronavirus and the necessity of lockdown mean we have to seriously rethink the future of theatre, and there could be many benefits to increased filming and screening of live performances in the future, even as the threat of the virus decreases.

Filming plays will make them more accessible to a greater audience. Even without Corona, there are those in our society who can’t easily get to a theatre, such as the elderly or disabled, and watching plays streamed online means they can enjoy the arts from the comfort of their own home. Theatre prices and travel costs are simply unaffordable for many and streaming provides a cheaper option. 

Translating arts to the screen also allows for subtitles and audio description to assist those with visual or hearing impairments or other disabilities. Sometimes the loud noises, lights and crowds of a theatre can be difficult to navigate for people with autism or other sensory issues and watching from home might be a more accessible and enjoyable experience.

With the arts industry under more financial strain than ever, embracing the screen might be a way to generate more revenue and keep live performances going. What’s more, screened performances mean no more paying out of pocket for a seat that’s miles from the stage; everyone gets a front-row view, and sometimes it makes you appreciate a performance even more. Certainly, the humour in Hamilton is very subtle at times and I feel much of it would have been lost on me without close up cuts of the expressions on the actors’ faces, in particular Daveed Diggs, whose face said it all in his hilarious portrayal of Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.

Plays like Hamilton deserve to be shared. Think about how much more interesting A-level History would be with performances like that to learn from! I for one would have done a lot better in my exam had I had the fact-packed soundtrack memorised as I do now!

While there will always be a place for live performance, a future of film could be a positive thing, ensuring the joy of theatre is available to the masses.

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