For some members of the “Hamilton” cast performing in Spokane this month, the show never stops.
Ellis Dawson, Brion Marquis Watson and Milika Cherée, Black thespians of “Hamilton,” participated Wednesday in a virtual question-and-answer session about “Hamilton” along with their journeys to the stage.
The night before, 200 students attended the smash-hit play courtesy of the Carl Maxey Center. Community organizations such as Canopy Credit Union, Gesa Credit Union and the Providence Foundation funded the first batch of tickets, which ballooned after ShowKidz program, sponsored by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 93, also pitched in. TWCorp company added tickets, and Avista offered to sponsor the Q&A.
“We were able to bring 200 people to the show last night, primarily students: college and high school students and some folks in the community,” said Sandy Williams, executive director of the Carl Maxey Center. “It was amazing to have that many people of color in the theater last night.”
Kiantha Duncan, president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter, moderated the Q&A.
“Maybe because y’all have been doing this for a while, that it doesn’t feel as big, but this is major, and to see Black young folks doing stuff like this is really amazing; it really is unbelievable,” she said.
“I was having the worst week in New York (City) ever … and I have a trainer who is also a performer. … He said, ‘I just have a feeling that today’s gonna be a good day for you,’ ” Dawson said. “We’re leaving the gym in the locker room and my agent called. My agent only calls when it’s good news. I felt like all this hard work is finally paying off and it’s all coming to fruition.”
Many of the people who received tickets to “Hamilton” were high school students and the trio of actors provided diverse examples of how to make their dreams come true.
They discussed their personal journeys to “Hamilton,” varying from different backgrounds and parts of the country.
Cherée is a New Jersey native. Watson hails from North Carolina, and Dawson is from New York.
They discussed their important steps into acting, with Cherée attending a small private school without an arts program, and diving into the technicalities of theater while attending Rider University.
Cherée, who wore a recognizable strawberry champagne dress while portraying one of the Schuyler sisters Tuesday night, detailed her first experiences of being a “shy child with a loud voice.”
“As much as I knew performing arts was a feeling in me, until I got to university and started taking classes for it, it was always ‘Oh, these are my feelings for it.’ Now, I’m able to sort of articulate that through my education,” Cherée said. “Just try and educate yourself a little bit more if it’s truly something that you want to do and have a better understanding.”
Watson, a dancer in “Hamilton’s” ensemble, described for the students how he is the only artist in his family of athletes, so his love and introduction into the arts was an individual journey. He stated that there was no Plan B for him to become the artist he is today.
“My family didn’t know anything about the arts, so they put me in places where I could be educated, but I was on YouTube. I learned a lot on YouTube,” Watson said. “Being an artist means being an observer and I think that’s what makes a talented artist and performer.”
Dawson spoke to the mental preparation of the seasonal cycle of theater and how he created opportunity in the midst of how uncertain the acting business can be, including investing in personal hobbies.
“Within this business, you’re a professional performer, but you’re really a professional auditioner,” He said. “And it’s like, depending on the person, 90 to 95% of the time, it’s a ‘no.’ But 5 to 10% of the time it’s a ‘yes.’ So, you go into the business knowing you’re going to get a lot of noes. It’s going to take 100 ‘noes’ for one ‘yes.’
With parents also in the virtual audiences, there were questions about how to support a child’s big dreams. The actors agreed that the main ingredient was those around them believing in them.
Cherée suggested parents introduce their children to the arts outside the stage such as watching the Tony Awards together and introducing them to various art forms outside of theater.
“If your child is in the fourth row at a dance recital, and you can barely see them and they come up to you and ask how they did, please just support your kids and love them through whatever,” she said. “All the technical stuff comes after. And if they really want to, support it and listen to them, too.”
Hamilton sparked the nation’s interests for its storytelling, but also playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s commitment to diversifying the cast to tell the story of America’s Founding Fathers.
Duncan and the actors discussed the way Hamilton revolutionized the way nuanced stories are told from the perspective of people of color.
“As a Black man in theater, I get to show so much nuance and ranges of emotions. I get to be super silly and vulnerable,” Dawson said of his “Hamilton” role. “I’m also 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, so I’m normally asked to be big, brooding characters. So to be Aaron Burr and sing lullabies to my daughter (is special).”
Williams thanked the actors for the morning Q&A after a night of performing, expressing her gratitude for their time to inspire Spokane’s rising artists.
“I think its important for me that you know how big this is for our community,” Williams said. “Our kids don’t get this very often, so for you to make this space for us means more than you could know.”
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