It was 7:50 PM, and we were running through Times Square in New York trying to make an 8:00 PM show at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on 46th St. We had made the mistake of ordering dessert at dinner (I just had to have some tiramisu), thinking we would grab a cab to ferry us to the theatre in time. Big mistake. The cab was barely moving through the congested traffic, so we literally hopped out in the middle the street—me, my husband, sister, and friend from high school—and started wending our way through the thick crowds, me ignoring the pain of my pointy-toed kitten-heeled boots. We hurriedly zigged and zagged, bumped into and plowed through the throngs of people, while the bright lights of Times Square illuminated our desperate trek to make the downbeat of the most celebrated show on Broadway.
With two minutes to spare, we grabbed our tickets at will call, courtesy of one of my sister’s dear colleagues, and still catching our breath, stuck our tickets out as ushers led us to our seats. Once again we moved against a sea of bodies in the packed house until we heard the usher announce, “Here ya go.” Oh joy. Oh bliss. These weren’t just any seats. These were “house seats,” 8th row, perfect view, perfect distance away. We plopped down and then: Blackout. Lights up. Music. Hamilton!
There are some once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and this was one. To say that the music, costumes, staging, and actors were magnificent doesn’t capture the essence of this play because there’s a creative genius behind the concept that transcends anything I could have imagined. People had told me to listen to the soundtrack beforehand in order to get acquainted with the words, “so many words,” they said, but I wanted to immerse myself fully in the experience, to let it wash over me for the first time. Having read Chernow’s book, I felt I had a grasp of the storyline and preferred to take my chances.
Between the music, casting (Black, Latino, and white actors), costumes, and set, playwright Lin Manuel Miranda turned history on its head; yet, in some ways, it was more real, more immediate, more relatable and a lot more fun! In addition to leaving me enthralled, what Lin Manuel captured was the humanity of these figures, these our founding fathers and mothers—their dedication to family, hard work, courage, ambition, idealism, and, yes, their many flaws. He reminded us of the nobleness of the American experiment, while acknowledging its unfulfilled promises of equality and “justice for all.”
As the audience erupted to its feet at the end of the show, I felt I had been part of something transcendent, and all of my fellow theatergoers felt it too. We were united in a shared experience of this play, tacitly acknowledging our human connection despite our differences. But what about that connection once we leave the theatre?
In today’s climate, everywhere we turn it feels like “you’re either with me or against me.”
Brene Brown explores this in her new book, Braving the Wilderness. She reminds us that there is an inextricable connection between people, a “spirit that flows between us,” but Brown points out how that connection is broken: “Today our political and ideological discourse has become an exercise in dehumanizing others…making them seem less human and thus not worthy of humane treatment.” So what can we do? Brown’s answer is simple–“Hold hands. With strangers….Show up for collective moments of joy and pain so we can actually bear witness to our inextricable human connection.” Just like watching Hamilton with a theatre full of people or attending a sporting event or a gathering at your local independent bookstore. For Brown, “the more we’re willing to seek out moments of collective joy and show up for experiences of collective pain, the more difficult it becomes to deny our human connection, even with people we may disagree with.” Yes, we are all different, but underneath it all, we are very much the same.
When I returned home from our trip to New York, I immediately downloaded the Hamilton soundtrack on iTunes. Listening again to “all those words,” I’m struck by the power of that story, that no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we look like, we are all intimately related.
This is a concept I explore in my presentation Getting Their Point While Making Yours: Mastering the Art of Conversation at Work https://www.jennyriddle.com/speaking/keynotes-and-consulting/