Lin-Manuel Miranda Wants To Put You in the Room Where It Happens

With every state now in a phase of reopening, we’ve begun cautiously tiptoeing into a new normal, dining out at restaurants en plein air, and entering shops with masks secured. But some spaces—like Broadway theaters, concert halls, and other high-capacity venues—remain shuttered indefinitely, with no way of knowing when they might once again be able to safely open their doors.

Attending a live performance is therefore a distant prospect, but thanks to an upcoming release on Disney+, you’ll soon be able to get your Broadway fix at home. As of today, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical Hamilton is available to stream from the comfort of your couch. Taped in 2016 at New York City’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, the live recording features the production’s original cast, including Miranda himself. If you weren’t able to get tickets to Hamilton the first time around, now is your chance to experience the groundbreaking musical from the very people who made it explode.

Throughout the pandemic, Miranda and his family have been working to support live performers and immigrant and undocumented communities, raising money for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund and the Hispanic Federation. In a conversation with BAZAAR.com, the composer, singer, actor, producer, and playwright discusses Hamilton, the role of art in times of crisis, and what—or who—gives him hope.

What made you initially decide to release a filmed production of Hamilton?

I spent almost seven years writing Hamilton as a piece of theater—and the goal was for as many people to see it in that form as possible—in the same space as the performers, in the room where it happens. But we also know that access is always an issue with something as ephemeral as live theater, so we filmed the show before the original principals started to leave. We always wanted to democratize that experience—a snapshot of what it was like in the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016—and give everyone access to it.

It was initially slated for an October 2021 release date. Does its new release date feel more meaningful because of our current reality?

I’m so proud of the film. It’s exciting that Disney moved the streaming date up, because so many people are staying home, which is exactly what they need to do. It feels good that we are meeting the moment with this movie. People miss gathering, and it feels like this will be a huge virtual theatrical gathering.

Access is always an issue with something as ephemeral as live theater.

You were raised in a family committed to community activism. How did that impact your life and goals as a creative?

As far back as I can remember, my parents were activists. Whether they were collecting signatures to expand the pool of minority candidates running for elected office or demonstrating to get new schools built in my neighborhood, my parents taught us that if you want change, you need to actively work for it. And they each brought their unique talents to the table. My mom is a clinical psychologist, and she taught me all about empathy—how to really feel what it is to be in someone else’s shoes. My dad is good at working the system, collaborating with people, creating solutions. But all that aside, they have really different artistic tastes—my mom always wants dramatic movies with a cathartic cry at the end, my dad wants pure musical theater escapism. I find that the things I make try to bridge that gap. I write big, old musicals that hopefully have a cathartic cry somewhere in there.

How did you decide which organizations to partner with on COVID-19 relief efforts?

My wife is an engineer and a lawyer, and she was watching what was happening abroad very closely, so we had a sense that COVID-19 was going to hit the U.S. hard early on. Our family decided that we would make personal donations, collaborate with others, and raise funds for two groups that are often forgotten: immigrants and undocumented communities, and live performers, both actors and creatives behind the scenes. Whether it’s to help with job loss, health insurance, food insecurity, or so many other issues, we are trying to get as much cash into the hands of individuals in need as possible.

We’re working to accomplish this goal by working through two organizations, Broadway Cares and the Hispanic Federation. Through TeeRico, my merch company run by my brother-in-law, we’re selling a custom-designed hoodie, T-shirts, and other items, with proceeds going to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund. And on the Charity Network platform (Charitybuzz, Prizeo), we launched RaiseUpFund.com, which is raising funds for immigrant organizations all over the country in partnership with the Hispanic Federation. We are calling on everyone we know for support, from large organizations and foundations like American Express and the Ford Foundation to friends with talents to bring to the table.

The arts community as a whole has been hit hard by COVID-19. What can people best do to support it?

Beyond giving much-needed donations to Broadway Cares and The Actors Fund, participate in online arts programming, become a member of your favorite museum, buy an album, and support small businesses in your community.

What do you think we’re missing right now without live events in our lives?

Experiencing art virtually is what we have now, if we want to remain safe (and we do!), so I have been thinking about how art online offers other benefits. On Google Arts & Culture, you can look at very famous paintings like Goyita, a famous piece from Puerto Rican artist [Rafael] Tufiño, and zoom in so closely that you can see brushstrokes and other details you wouldn’t get to see in a museum. I’m using this time to write as much as I can, so I have something new for when we can gather safely again.

I’m using this time to write as much as I can, so I have something new for when we can gather safely again.

What has given you hope throughout the pandemic?

My kids. I love how they see the world, even when things seem scary or unknown. Watching their bond grow has been a silver lining throughout this time.

Do you think you’ll approach future projects any differently post-pandemic?

Well, something I miss a lot is being in a room with my collaborators. Often, I bring them my drafts and we hash out what works together. We now do that online, but I miss feeling the energy in the room when we find the right idea. I will remember to savor that time even more when we can all be together.

Do you feel that art is more important now than ever?

Imagine this lockdown without any of the entertainment to which you’ve had access—no movies, no TV, no music, no books. Art is escape, art is catharsis, art is distraction, art is illumination—it’s what makes the hard times just a little easier.

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