It’s like having your first sporting event be the Super Bowl.
About 5,000 high-schoolers and middle-schoolers are getting $10 tickets to the hottest show in town — the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” — as part of a $1 million educational program.
“It was amazing,” said Kahlil Burge, an energetic eighth-grader at Folwell School in Minneapolis who was part of the first cohort of students Saturday. “I loved that they rapped the story and that it was about all of us.”
On Thursday afternoon, the Orpheum Theatre will be filled with 2,400 students and teachers from the Twin Cities and beyond. Another 2,400 will see the Oct. 4 matinee.
For many, it’s their first exposure to professional theater.
“They are our most raucous audience,” said actor Marcus Choi, who plays George Washington. “It’s almost like a rock concert.”
The students scored tickets through Twin Cities-based Project Success, a program that uses theater to help kids unlock their potential, and EduHam, an initiative launched by the family of “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda — a former teacher himself.
His father, Luis Miranda Jr., has led EduHam efforts in various cities since 2016, but said the Twin Cities stands out.
“Usually we do one matinee but Minneapolis is special,” he said. “In many cities, I call the mayor or school board or superintendent and introduce the program, but we have a fantastic partner in Minneapolis. With Project Success, you go into the school system with a red carpet.”
With a diverse cast that uses contemporary words and music to deliver the story of the nation’s Founding Fathers and Mothers, the show resonates deeply with young people.
“I got all in my feelings,” said Folwell student Margarita Vasquez, whose family is from Ecuador. She appreciated that the show was “about an immigrant who came from nothing — no parents, no money — and made it.”
The selected students come from under-resourced Title 1 schools where many lack the opportunity to see high-caliber cultural offerings. At Folwell, 90 percent of students get free or reduced-price lunches.
After Saturday’s performance, the 108 eighth-graders went next door to the Hennepin Theatre Trust for a dinner of homemade empanadas and Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus punch). The youngsters buzzed as they rapped lines from the show. “I’m not throwing away my shot, shot” and “Rise up!” featured prominently.
Adrienne Diercks, who founded Project Success 25 years ago to use theater to excite students about learning, beamed as she surveyed the scene.
“This is about the kids,” she said. “They are all little Hamiltons — young, scrappy and hungry.”
In a typical year, Project Success works with 14,000 Minneapolis school students, and takes them to shows at the Guthrie, Children’s Theatre and other venues. It also takes kids on world-expanding trips abroad, including to France.
Diercks started working on funding for “Hamilton” tickets three years ago, when she saw the show in New York with a group that included Target Corp. executive Laysha Ward and Ellen Michelson, founder of Minneapolis-based Aroha Philanthropies. Both would become benefactors.
“We knew immediately that this would speak to young people,” Diercks said. “We knew that it would inspire them to want to write and tell their own stories.”
These “little Hamiltons” have spent hours in recent weeks studying history and poring over letters and other primary documents from the American Revolution.
The Miranda family partnered with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to develop a teacher-led curriculum that it rolls out in cities where “Hamilton” plays.
Students even write their own raps, poems and dramatic scenes that they’ll get to perform on the “Hamilton” stage.
In all, 30 high schools in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin are participating in the program. The producers of “Hamilton” made tickets available for $70 each, of which $60 is being subsidized by Aroha, Target, the Minnesota Vikings and the Wilf Family Foundations, among others. The total cost, including buses and meals, is more than $1 million.
“We’re strong backers of Adrienne and her vision,” said Michelson. Her foundation has supported Project Success for a decade “because of their involvement with using theater as a tool to inspire youth.”
Audrey Wilf, wife of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, is a board member of New York’s Public Theater, which helped develop “Hamilton,” and was an early investor in the show.
“It’s gratifying to be involved because it’s so empowering to students,” said Wilf. “It gives young people a feeling of belonging and being part of this great nation of immigrants.”
For their part, the students say they have been inspired to dream big.
Writer and performer Abigail Contreras, 14, said she feels confident about her future.
“My story that I’m going to tell is that it doesn’t matter where you come from — you can change the world.”