Summer Camps Catch Hamilton Mania for Minnesota Children
Kids learn about literature, history, and more as the sing, rap, and dance to the hottest musical of our time.
11-year-old Will Jakala is such a fan of “Guns and Ships” from Hamilton that he has memorized the entire song.
The young boy may know all of the words, but he admits that he doesn’t know the meaning of all of them. On his first day of camp, he learned the meaning of the word “quagmire.”
“They’re teaching me, and it’s really great,” he told us as he participated in a Hamilton session at the acting camp at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. “I just love the context. It’s so cool.”
The iconic musical opens in downtown Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theatre on August 29th. Despite the month-long wait, Will Jakala and hundreds of other acting students have been embracing the songs and dances of Hamilton all summer long. Some favorites among the students include My Shot and Guns and Ships.
The unexpected popularity of the play among children has prompted at least 3 Twin Cities schools to capitalize on it to teach eager kids about singing, acting, and dancing, all while sneaking in education about literacy and American history at the same time.
In northeast Minneapolis, both CTC and Sarah Jane’s Music School have embraced Hamilton, producing camps that focus on the musical and its themes. In Hopkins, Stages Musical Theatre used a Hamilton song as part of its Opening Night festivities.
The timing of these Hamilton camps couldn’t be better, as US touring production of the musical will take the Twin Cities by storm later this summer. Other cities across the nation have cashed in on Hamilton fever, with Music Theatre Philly and Seattle Public Theater both giving students the chance to study and perform acts from the musical.
CTC’s Hamilton Camp was a perpetual revolutionary party, with children aged 11 to 14 spending a week at a time with voice teachers and choreographers. Over five separate sessions, these experienced teachers taught hundreds of children how to enjoy history through song and dance. In fact, CTC needed to double their amount of sessions because of widespread interest from children and parents alike.
History on our side
Stages Musical Theatre closed out their summer camp program, “Opening Night,” with an inclusive performance of the popular song My Shot. Family and friends gathered to take in the showcase, watching the 10 to 13-year old’s sing and rap about our nation’s history.
The song highlights Alexander Hamilton’s rebellion against the British, as he rises up to fight for American freedom. The teachers at the camp love the song because it allowed them to teach the children about the nuanced language and significance behind the lead character being “young, scrappy, and hungry” just like the United States of the time.
They used modern language to teach the children how it actually might have sounded back in the 18th century.
Children latch onto Hamilton because of the fun mix of rap, soul, jazz, and R&B, but they become further drawn in because the story is connected to what they learn in history class.
The teachers at Stages were happy to slip history into their singing and dancing lessons. When students can enjoy their education, it makes it easier for the teachers to explain its significance.
Hamilton youth – behind the scenes
“How does the ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower somehow defeat a global superpower?” You may recognize this from the musical Hamilton, but it’s a little bit different when 11-year-old Will Jakala is rapping it. It’s even more impressive when a chorus of other children come in to complete the chorus with him. With vocal teacher Eric Mayson manning the keyboard and encouraging them, you’ll realize that this isn’t your everyday summer camp.
Mayson continues with his words of motivation as the kids sing the words to Lafayette and start mimicking the dance that was made popular by the now world-famous musical.
Teacher Kendra Dennard of Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis chimed in with some more information.
“We chose the songs that kids love, that have a solid, steady, pulsing tempo that would be easier for them to feel in their bodies.”
Hamilton is popular enough with the youth that many of the kids already know most of the words to the songs. This makes it easier for teachers to put emphasis on the meaning of the songs and educate the children on their historical significance.
The beauty of Hamilton is that it has garnered interest from children who previously had no regard for music or theatre. Dennard says that she remembers being drawn to theatre in 1994 with the rock musical Rent. Before then, she didn’t have much interest, but thanks to that blooming obsession, she ended up sticking with theatre for life.
Hamilton has been dazzling audiences on Broadway for 3 years now, but it is still gaining popularity across the nation. At Sarah Jane’s Music School in Minneapolis, Sarah Jane Perbix made the decision to create a Hamilton camp after her students couldn’t stop singing and playing the tunes from the play.
Evan Tyler Wilson is a teacher at Sarah Jane’s, and he was ecstatic to take the reins and run the camp for the benefit of the children. His goal is to let the children choose their favorite songs and then lead them in learning to sing and perform them. He remains committed to empowering the children by allowing them to learn about rhythm, pitch, and harmony. He asserts that it isn’t all that difficult because the kids are already obsessed with the songs and show an unwavering willingness to put in the time it takes to perfect them.
Sarah Jane’s Hamilton camp is for students aged 12 and up and will be in session from August 6th until August 10th. The camp is currently filled, but because of such a strong response from children and parents alike, Perbix is planning to put together a grown-up sing-along session later this fall. This may be an excellent opportunity for those parents who are secretly jealous of all the fun their kids are having at Sarah Jane’s camp.