Queens high school students ‘blow us all away’ with Hamilton performance in ‘The Room Where it Happens’

Lead photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS, body photos by Walter McBride

They didn’t throw away their shot.

Three young, scrappy and hungry Far Rockaway high school students got the chance of a lifetime to perform an original work at Manhattan’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, the home base of “Hamilton” and the renowned Hamilton Education Program (HEP).

On June 5, Queens High School for Information, Research, and Technology (QIRT) senior Ebube Nwaeme and juniors Angelica Garcia and Christian Gordon participated in the last “EduHam” program of the 2018-2019 season along with students from 12 other schools in New York and the tri-state area.

The trio performed a rap and vocal song based on the infamous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Nwaeme played the role of the narrator while Garcia and Gordon took on the roles of Hamilton and Burr, respectively.

EduHam, as the HEP program is affectionately called, allows students at Title I high schools to learn an integrated curriculum about Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Era.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute provides students and instructors with source material that they use to create an original song, rap, poetry, scene or monologue.

At the end of the school year, participating students perform in front of 1,300 of their peers, participate in a Q&A with the show’s cast and also have the opportunity to see a Hamilton matinee for $10 a ticket.

The group learned about the opportunity when they saw a flyer advertising the program. The QIRT students, who call themselves “144 Royalty,” worked with their music teacher Mr. Rhodes and fellow student Ivan Malcolm on the beat and lyrics for their song “The Duel.”

“Mondays and Fridays after school, we’re recording takes and all that. And then later in the week when we got familiar with the lyrics, we were all putting in lines to the lyrics and all of that. Then later, we promoted to acting it out,” Nwaeme said.

He added that they would collectively gauge and watch themselves perform in preparation for the big day.

“We performed it at our school, so to progress on to this is really unexpected. We actually get to experience how it is being a performer,” said Gordon, who shared that the three of them want to engage in some type of performance or entertaining in the future.

“I never in a million years thought that I would be here right now. Never,” Garcia said.

The educational program began in 2015 as a collaboration between Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Rockefeller Foundation and the NYC Department of Education.

Sasha Rolon Pereira, associate director of education and director of Hamilton Project at Gilder Lehrman said that the nonprofit and all collaborators created the project to mirror Miranda’s experience creating the hit musical.

The program started in New York but has since expanded to schools in Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, D.C., Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tampa. Pereira said that once the five-year program is complete in December 2020, the program will have reached over 250,000 Title I students nationwide.

In order to gauge the effectiveness of the program in each school, Gilder Lehrman administers surveys to track the data. Some of the data collected shows that most of the students at these schools have never been to a Broadway show and have also not had access to arts programs in the past.

“We also ask them if they have found that they’re more interested in American history and we’ve seen really high marks there, that the program actually makes them interested in a subject that they weren’t interested in before,” Pereira said.

She added that one of the biggest findings that they’ve gotten from the evaluations is that seeing “Hamilton” and the work they do leading up to it makes the students think more critically about current events.

For Nwaeme, Garcia and Gordon from Far Rockaway, the biggest success of the program was being able to perform on a Broadway stage where countless legends have stood before them.

“Being on this stage right now is mind-blowing because it’s one thing to sit on the stands and then watch it and it’s another thing to actually be on the stage and perform it,” Nwaeme said.

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