This past weekend, I had the incredible joy of seeing Hamilton at the Private Bank Theatre in Chicago. My husband and I flew in for a quick three days and caught the show on Friday night.
Oh. My. Goodness.
Since I’d been not so quietly fan-girling over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work for about a year, my expectations were sky high. And yet much to my delight, this was one of those rare instances in which the actual event exceeded its considerable hype. It’s a masterpiece.
I’m squarely in the camp of those who unapologetically consider Miranda to be our generation’s Shakespeare. He is changing the game, and the level of excellence embodied in this show is astonishing.
And yet, an overnight success story it is not. It took a long seven years to write Hamilton and to get it into its first off–Broadway theater. Seven years of writing and rewriting and shaping and tweaking. Seven years of putting in the work, one hour at a time.
If you’ve seen the PBS documentary, Hamilton’s America, about the creative process that Lin-Manuel used to develop the show, you’ll see exactly what I mean. This show didn’t write itself. He didn’t just wake up one morning, pour a cup of coffee, and craft this masterpiece in one fell swoop.
In fact, as the story goes, Lin-Manuel Miranda read Chernow’s 700 page biography of Hamilton in 2008 and found it so compelling that he was positive someone else would have already turned it into a musical.
And yet no one had. It was his to create. And he was not throwing away his shot.
A blank page lay before him. But before he could fill it with a two-act Broadway musical,
He began with a single song.
An imperfect start, a slow start, but a start nonetheless.
In fact, a year later, that one song was all he had. In 2009 when Lin-Manuel was first invited to share his work publicly (at the White House no less) he had, in his own words, “nothing more than a hot 16.”*
But he said YES. Why? Because he was not throwing away his shot.
Can you imagine the courage that took? To commit before it was even completed?
How easy would it have been to say “not yet” instead? To buy time? To stall….
It turns out he was ready enough. Those first few lines grew into the song he would perform for the President. (You can see it here.) And that song grew into a show. And that show became the 11 time Tony award winning phenomenon, Hamilton, that has been selling out performances since its opening night.
What made that possible? At its core, it was Miranda’s unrelenting commitment to the process of writing. To taking consistent, if imperfect, action. One difficult bar at a time. One note, one phrase, one rhyme at a time. No matter what. Taking his shot.
The well-documented process wasn’t linear or predictable.
How many of us have the stomach for that? How many of us have the stamina to persist for a year toward one small piece of our vision, patiently coaxing it forward?
But here’s the thing.
You’ve gotta be willing to get up every day and do the work.
It’s that first, halting, imperfect step that leads to the next.
And the next.
And the next.
When the President called, Lin-Manuel Miranda had nothing but a hot 16.
But he finished that one song and performed it. He took his shot.
And today we have Hamilton. A musical that will change the face of musicals. A musical that is bringing the genre to an entirely new generation of theater-goers. A piece of art that is teaching history in a freshly captivating manner. A show that’s bringing hip hop to an audience who wouldn’t have discovered it in any other way.
All because Lin-Manuel Miranda gave it a shot.
So today, if you have an idea, and you’re waiting for the perfect storm of circumstances to coalesce before you chase it, maybe it’s time to ask yourself…
Are you throwing away your shot?
* in hip hop music; a hot verse or “16 lines”