Concerning musical theatre, and the arts community in general, the past year has cemented one thing; people don’t appreciate the level of complexity and preparation which goes into live entertainment. And this isn’t even counting the on-the-night events of choreography, stage management or orchestral. No, the level of study, trial and error and anxiety which performers, producers and writers undergo is excruciating and to find a clear-eyed and blithe approach is a rare gem.
In 2017, the juggernaut of Broadway faced its most crucial challenge – the Brits. You see, not only does Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton centre around the founding fathers and birth of the United States, a wholly different piece to anything on the West End, it was a show in which its new British audience were the villains – the colonists who profited from the atrocity. And a principal part of the show’s understanding of this was to be found within one of the British theatre’s most inestimable and dedicated stars – Giles Terera MBE.
Hamilton and Me, a behind-the-scenes diary from British actor, filmmaker, musician, and eventual Olivier winner Terera, charters the sparking realisations of an actor torn between certainty and potential, chasing a dream role to perform Aaron Burr, rival, and ultimately closest friend of the titular Alexander Hamilton. For any familiar with the text, the intense beats and once-in-a- lifetime lyrical prowess of Miranda’s work knows how crucial the role of Burr is, and how much a stamp of confidence it is to be chosen to play him.
Strikingly humble, a usual difficulty with biographies given their self-indulgent nature, Terera’s methodical approach to the examination of Burr, along with the intense detail in which he unfolds and comes to grips with the character makes for a raw and open journey. In his own words, Terera talks at lengths of ‘breathing’ and taking time to see yourself at the moment, transforming Hamilton and Me into less of a chronological series of events, and rather, places a piece of himself into the book.
And yet, even as much of the focus delves into the process of how, Hamilton and Me never stretches into realms of ego, but rather each page openly discusses the weaknesses, fears, and acknowledgements Terera experiences. The writing comes over as sincere, not seeking to distract with fruity language or metaphor, but to offer a personal and as intimate an account as possible – taking not only Terera’s encounters and senses into the mix but also those of the co-stars he grows with.
An adequate length, Hamilton and Me successfully comprises a measured amount of time, from the audition process to rehearsal and into the opening nights. A relative quick-read, it deserves a re-visit and a permanent place on aspiring musical theatre performers’ bookshelves. On occasion, the journal foundations wobble the flow of language, passages requiring a quick re-read to keep a steady pace, but otherwise is an excellently written piece that maintains both style and structure.
The stamp of approval from Lin-Manuel Miranda comes in the form of a foreword, serving not solely as an additional name to spice the cover but an honest introduction and taste of what the book is principally about – this is less a full life biography and more a moment in time, captured and documented. The inclusion, too, of behind-the-scenes photography of set dressings, performers and staging makes for a keepsake in itself for any Hamilton fan, and serve to paint a fuller picture where the journal structure leaves gaps.
Masterfully Terera achieves a complete journey, leaving readers asking the very question which grasped his attention when asked to audition for the role; ‘How…?’. How on earth does a collection of notes, shuffled, and compiled into a bound book convey such emotional intensity and sense of tangibility? An impressive feat.
Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal offers something seldom understood by audiences and readers, the metamorphic journey undertaken, stripped back of method acting or gimmick, and the chance to not only be in the ‘room where it happens’ but also to smell the sweat, feel the pulsing hearts and hear the resonance.
Out 1 July 2021