Gateway students part of ‘Hamilton’ project |

Gateway students part of ‘Hamilton’ project

Dillon Carr
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
A group of 98 Gateway students gather in the school’s auditorium before heading out to join the 2,700 regional students taking part in the Hamilton Eductaion Program at the Benedum Center on Friday, January 25.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
Madelynn Smith, as King George, and Jillian Blackburn, as Jefferson, performed their “rap” entitled “Committing Treason” on stage before the cast performance of the hit musical.

Gateway High School students were up for the challenge when teachers told them they had two weeks to prepare a project before being able to enjoy Broadway’s next sensation – “Hamilton” – in Pittsburgh.

“It really worked out well,” said Mark Wallace, a high school social studies teacher.

Wallace said the high school sent 98 students to Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center to catch Friday’s matinee of “Hamilton.”

The trip is part of a partnership between the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the producers of “Hamilton” and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical’s writer. It aims to make the history behind the play come alive for students in low-income districts, only charging $10 per ticket.

Gateway originally applied to be part of the program and was not chosen. When another school backed out in early January, the district was invited to fill that spot.

Wallace said he is proud of all the students who participated. He said the experience has been a good learning tool for high school students.

“They were working with primary evidence to get a message out. Fundamentally, that’s what (history teachers) want them to do, so it’s been a good exercise. It’s what we call in the history teaching business, ‘doing history.’ They’re doing something with it,” he said.

According to Jeffrey Seller, the show’s producer, that was part of the plan.

“Our goal is to ensure students have a shot to see ‘Hamilton’ and use its words, music and staging to further their understanding and enjoyment of American history, music and drama,” Seller said in a news release.

Juniors Jillian Blackburn, 16, and Madelynn Smith, 16, did just that. They put a teenaged spin on Thomas Jefferson’s “rough draft” of the Declaration of Independence.

“It was really fun,” Blackburn said. “It’s about (Jefferson) complaining about the king of Britain’s taxing of colonies. He listed grievances against taxes – we turned those to phrases and changed it around to fit.”

Blackburn said the experience has given her a more rich understanding of the arts.

“This whole process kind of made me step back and see how difficult this stuff can be. It’s a lot of work but also really fun,” she said.

Smith, a cello player in the school’s orchestra, wants to be a film director someday.

“Music is a big aspect of that. So it was fun – but stressful because now I have to perform it,” she said, laughing.

Blackburn and Smith performed their song, “Committing Treason,” in front of 2,700 other students who also got the chance to watch Friday’s matinee.

In the performance, the pair take turns singing and rapping in the nearly 2-minute song with a catchy hook with music borrowed from a video game theme song.

Principal Justin Stephens was stoked for the students – and himself.

“I haven’t seen the show,” he said of “Hamilton.” The principal is one of 10 chaperones that went to the theater. But the learning aspect is what he hopes students walk away with.

“It’s another format to learn. Instead of sitting at a desk, this gave them a hands-on experience. It’s unique,” Stephens said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter @dillonswriting.