You don’t have to be a “Hamilton” groupie to love this wonderful interview that Nieman Foundation Curator Ann Marie Lipinski did recently with the blockbuster play’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. (But if you are one, prepare to get very excited.)
The video aired at last weekend’s Pulitzer Centennial extravaganza at Harvard, which the Nieman Foundation hosted. You’ll probably want to watch the whole video — he’s so entertaining, 13 minutes seems like three. But if you just want some of the highlights, I’ve kindly pulled a few choice quotes about the art of storytelling for you. (No need to thank me. Your pleasure the only reward I need…)
On finding your voice:
“It takes a long time to find your own voice; it takes a lot of reading things you love and seeing things you love and reading things you hate and seeing things you hate.
I think the beginning of your work as an artist, I think it begins when you imbibe art and you’re able to critically say why you love something or why you don’t love something and why something doesn’t work for you. In doing so, you figure out your own tastes and you figure out the kind of work you want to make.
And so I think in the early stages of everyone’s work you’re chasing your heroes, you’re chasing the literary styles of your heroes, the themes that your heroes explore because they’re the ones that resonate with you.
And in falling short of those, you eventually stumble into what you sound like, and the kind of art you create.”
“We leave out lots of stuff because we are working on momentum and we are working on, sort of, ‘How do you go on a ride with this guy and particularly Hamilton and Burr, who are these twin characters, twin souls, who sort of circle each other their whole lives until they tragically meet at the end?'”
On writing stories, not “themes”:
“For me, it always gets back to story. And I think if you set out to say: ‘I’m going to write a poem about the injustice of voter fraud. I’m going to write a musical about voter fraud and rigged elections,’ and I’m telling you it’s going to be boring. It’s going to be boring because you’re starting with themes instead of with the story.
I fell in love with Hamilton’s story, and in chasing his story it allowed me to write about all these other themes because they’re inherent in his life. The notion of power. The notion of the immigrant narrative, and how immigrant has positive connotations in our society just as often as it has negative connotations in our society. And how it can be used as both an aspirational word and an epithet in politics.
There are the notions of who gets to make the decisions in our century and the limits of representational democracy.
If I set out to write a show about that, it would be so boring. But if I’m writing about Hamilton and his friend Burr, and Burr gets locked out of a dinner, suddenly we can talk about all that stuff and it’s exciting because the personal is political.”
On choosing what story to tell:
“I would tell the storytellers living in these incredibly interesting times: Find the story that moves you and changes you and allows you to see differing perspectives. Because if the story is compelling, we’ll go with you regardless of what the politics inherent are. … I believe your responsibility as a storyteller, especially in the theater, is to give people the time of their lives and tell a great story well. Everything else is gravy.”