A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to see Hamilton on Broadway.
If you haven’t heard about it (and if you missed their Grammy performance and acceptance speech), Hamilton is a stunningly brilliant, brave, creative new musical about Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. The show, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of Hamilton’s life in rap and hip hop. The parallels between our Founding Fathers’ fight and the fight of immigrants and people of color today are rich and resonant.
I had tears streaming down my cheeks through most of the three hours, not because the show is sad but because that’s generally what happens to me when I encounter a courageous and original work of art. That night, I couldn’t sleep, I was so moved by the show (and I had seen the matinee, but it still kept me up!).
Afterward, my husband and I dug up a video clip. It’s from 2009. At the time, Hamilton wasn’t a show, even in the mind of its creator. Lin-Manuel Miranda had written one song for what he was then describing as an in-the-works album about the life of Alexander Hamilton. He performed that one song at the White House Poetry Jam (warning: there is adult/explicit language in this clip).
Here’s what shocked me: the audience is laughing in response to this song. The idea of a rap about Alexander Hamilton is considered funny.
And to me, in the video it looks like Lin-Manuel Miranda is struggling a little as to whether to side with his very serious passion for this character and his story – or to meet the audience’s tone and deliver his music in a more campy, satirical way.
What Lin-Manuel Miranda performed that night is the same song that now opens the show. When it’s sung in the theater now – a Broadway theater filled with people who paid a huge amount to be there, to see a work that has been critically acclaimed – the room is full of reverence. The audience is completely hushed, rapt. There is certainly no laughter.
This little parable matters for all of us.
When we bring something truly innovative into the world, it’s often met with ridicule, scoffing, laughter.
The question becomes: Do you know not to take the laughter personally? Do you know it may be the mark of your creativity – nothing more and nothing less?
And can you stand by your work long enough to see the laughter change to something else?