So I Guess That Hamilton Show Is Okay

So, some of you may know already, some of you may not, but I went to see Hamilton on June 25. I spent most of the following week completely overwhelmed by the experience (not to mention trying to catch up on work and sleep), but I thought I should write up a blog post about my adventure so I don’t forget anything. Now it’s been a month, and I still haven’t posted it. This is me changing that. 😉 I’ve probably already forgotten some things, but that’s life.

I first listened to the Hamilton cast album on December 28, 2015. I don’t know how I remember that date, but it’s one of those dates you don’t forget, I guess. A couple of my writing friends had been raving about the cast album and talking in lyrics ever since it was released (in September, I think). I was interested but I knew if I listened, it would probably consume my life.

Well, it did.

I listened almost constantly from December 28 to, well, now I guess. In early February I had the insane plan to go see it. I’ve never been so attached to a Broadway musical before, though I love musicals a LOT. And this had the advantage of being a new musical, so I had the opportunity to see the original cast.

Like seeing Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in Phantom. I mean, come ON. I couldn’t pass that up!

I hope you all appreciate how many perfectly good Hamilton puns I’m passing up on typing for the sake of “professionalism”, by the way.

So in February, I bought my ticket for Saturday night, June 25. I actually did it. It was an expensive ticket, but I had plenty in savings, and the ticket was nowhere NEAR as expensive as they skyrocketed to after the Grammys, the Pulitzers, and the Tonys (hint: my ticket cost 10% of what they ended up being listed for 2 weeks before the show. OUCH).

Fast forward to 4 months later, me alone in New York City, somewhere I’d never been before. Strangely I wasn’t nervous, though. I don’t think I was there long enough to be nervous, honestly. My hotel was just around the block from the theater, and if I looked out my window, I could see it since I was on the back side of the hotel. I couldn’t have asked for a better room, but it made me even more excited every time I saw it! I couldn’t believe I was there. I still can’t.

So at 7pm on Saturday, I was dressed and ready and made the trek down to the theater. The line for ticket holders was already snaked around the theater and almost all the way down the alley next to it, so I joined the end of the queue. Being the anxious person that I am, all sorts of thoughts were running through my head: what if (for some godforsaken reason) my ticket won’t scan/is a fake? What if I came all this way just to stand outside the doors of the Richard Rodgers and be turned away? What if we’re late getting in and I miss the beginning?

Not even good what ifs, either. Really lame and impossible. But such was the nature of my anxiety at the time. Regardless, it didn’t matter. Almost as soon as I reached the end of the line, we were moving, me clinging to my printed ticket for dear life (I think I forgot to mention: I was also lucky enough to get an orchestra seat! Stage right, second row. I also had an irrational fear that someone would try to steal my ticket, even though everyone around me had their own).

Then I was inside those magical doors! Well, it didn’t feel so magical at first with my claustrophobia and a thousand people trying to cram through at the same time, but still. I was too excited to think about it. As I waited for the ticket man to scan my ticket, I glanced at the wall with the cast names on it. I briefly saw “At this performance: Aaron Burr – __________ Angelica Schuyler – __________” and my heart sank. So it wouldn’t be Leslie Odom, Jr. and Renee Elise Goldsberry? But just as quickly, I shook it off. Maybe it was wrong. Maybe it was left up there from the matinee performance. I don’t know why I thought this, but I did.

After an eternity, I made it across the lobby to where I would be sitting, and a woman handed me my first-ever playbill. Shaking, I emerged into the theater itself. The stage was RIGHT THERE. I found my seat and sat down, trying to take it all in. When I say the stage was RIGHT THERE, it really was. I think the orchestra pit is under the stage, so there’s no break between the audience and the stage. There’s about a foot and a half of leg room between row AA and the stage, then I was in A, directly behind that. So I think I was about 3 feet from the stage.

I watched the audience trickle in for a while, then I decided to look at my playbill. It took me a minute to find the card insert with who would be on that night, but I did. That’s when I noticed that the sign in the entryway was right.

I wouldn’t be seeing Leslie and Renee.

That really stabbed at my heart for a minute, but I decided to shake it off. I had come all this way, and I was determined to enjoy myself. I would always have the cast album and, someday, the DVD that they had just filmed with the entire original cast. I didn’t NEED to see them, though I wanted to. And besides, I was seeing most of the original cast, anyway.

Anthony. Jasmine. Pippa. Daveed. Oak. Chris.

LIN.

Yes. Lin was on Saturday night. I tried to take a picture of the cast list but it came out blurry because I was shaking. I kind of expected that he would probably be on, but seeing his name right there in print was ridiculously exciting. I still can’t believe how incredibly lucky I was to see Lin in the role he created and originally starred in, especially since he would be leaving 2 weeks from that night. Incredibly special.

The only other original cast member I would be missing, of course, was Jonathan Groff, but I knew that, since he had left in April. And Rory was FANTASTIC (but that’s a story for later..)

So who were the understudies going on for Leslie and Renee? I know Sydney Harcourt is the understudy for Leslie, but that night it was someone I hadn’t heard of yet—Austin Smith. Alysha Deslorieux, a standby for all 3 Schuyler Sisters, was on for Angelica. I took the requisite Instagram pictures and settled back in my seat, waiting for the show to begin.

~*~*~*~

The show starts so abruptly, it’s almost funny. The lights go down, and there’s no prologue or warmup music. Just those 7 notes like a call to action. And for those of you who saw the performance on the Grammys, you know what the opening number looks like. Each cast member comes on separately when their line comes, and there’s applause and cheers for each. There wasn’t much applause for Austin as Burr since not many people know him I guess, and not much for Anthony, either, which made me sad. There was quite a bit for Daveed, especially now after his Tony win, and I cheered. I love him a lot.

And when Lin came out? Oh, when Lin came out. There was so much applause—it lasted a solid 20 seconds until he finally continued so everyone was forced to stop. He deserves every bit of it, but I can see that getting old night after night.
I grinned my way through the first 3 or 4 numbers when I finally stopped and started really paying attention. I was paying attention, but just the novelty of actually being there dimmed a bit so I could focus more.

At one point in “Aaron Burr, Sir” Lin crosses over to the right side of the stage, which is the first time he’s really close to where I was sitting. This was still in my grinning stage, and his eyes swept over the audience and locked on mine for a second before moving on and continuing the scene.

He looked right at me. I could not make this up. I can’t really remember the rest of the song because my brain shut off temporarily. That’s a memory I will treasure forever, even though I’m sure it happens every night to whoever sits there. STILL. My whole brain just went “Well. That happened” about ten thousand times.

If I were to give you a play-by-play of the entire show, this post would be thousands and thousands of words long. I could go on for quite a while, believe me, but I’m going to wrap it up now with a few thoughts and some observations I wrote down the next morning so I wouldn’t forget.

First, the cast. I can’t say enough good things about all of them. This is one of the most amazing companies (I believe) that have ever hit Broadway. They’re all perfect for their roles, but still not so essential that no one else can step into their shoes. Case in point: Austin and Alysha.

I wasn’t sure about Austin as Burr at first, but by the time we got to “Wait For It”, I was sold. Weighing him against Leslie based only on the few clips available on YouTube of Leslie is difficult, but I’ve listened to the cast album enough to supplement. Leslie is a true performer, his movements as Burr smooth. Austin was much more still and controlled, almost bored at times. But it worked for Burr as a character, who keeps so much inside. Even in “The Room Where It Happens”, every movement was precise and controlled. And his voice is incredible. Where Leslie’s is jazzy and smooth, Austin’s is deeper and almost reminded me of an opera singer at times. I posted about it on Twitter after the show, when I sent my sister a clip of him singing, and we agreed—it’s akin to blasphemy, I know, but I may actually prefer Austin’s voice. His performance? I can’t really choose since I haven’t (and never will *sniff*) seen Leslie, but I would probably give Leslie the edge there.

But Alysha? I cannot say enough about Alysha. She is my queen. I adore Renee so much, but Alysha destroyed it at such a level that I never once thought I was missing out. The one thing I will say is I think Renee is the better rapper, but Alysha is the better singer, in my opinion. At the end of “Satisfied” she adds on these ridiculous notes that aren’t in the cast album that literally made my mouth drop. Search it on Tumblr. There’s audio on there. She is incredible. Whenever Renee leaves, she really should take over full-time.

What more can I say? Daveed made me laugh so hard as Jefferson, and “Guns and Ships” was just as mind-blowingly amazing as you’d think. Pippa is a national treasure, and how she can sound exactly as she does on the cast album (especially in “Burn”) is incredible. Oak is a badass and I love him a lot. I came away a tiny bit more in love with Anthony. Jasmine is gorgeous and has an incredible voice. Chris is a fantastic Washington and “One Last Time” was one of those magical numbers that makes you laser-focus on the stage. Those last notes were amazing. And Lin.

Oh Lin. I could go on for days about that man. But the basics are this: amazing rapper, even better singer than the cast album would lead you to believe, and terrific actor. His emotional face in “That Would Be Enough”, “Stay Alive (reprise)”, and “It’s Quiet Uptown” absolutely broke me. I wish I could describe it well enough to do it justice. I guess you’ll have to wait for the DVD recording!

And now, some little things about the show you don’t get from the cast album! You may have seen some of these on Tumblr, but maybe not. My brain might have thought certain things were more important than other people’s. Enjoy 🙂

~*~*~*~

* In “Helpless” when Eliza says “laughing at my sister as she’s dazzling the room” Angelica is dancing with, of all people, George Washington

* In “The Schuyler Sisters” Peggy didn’t really want to go into the city—Angelica and Eliza practically drag her and when she sees the big city she shakes her head and tries to run away

* Street lamps are put around the edge of the second turntable to mimic outdoors in the city in “The Schuyler Sisters” and “Say No To This”

* At the end of “Hurricane” when Hamilton is making the decision to write the Reynolds Pamphlet, Maria Reynolds appears behind him and hands him the quill

* In “Right Hand Man”, large side lights flash and there is a cannon sound effect to mimic cannons going off

* In “Farmer Refuted” Hamilton is about to go up to Seabury and challenge him when Burr steps in front and literally pushes him back with his arm (“let him be”). Hamilton slinks back, defeated, until Lafayette walks up and pushes him towards Seabury again. Hamilton turns back and looks at him grinning like “really? You think I should?” It’s hilarious

* In “My Shot” Laurens, Mulligan, and Lafayette are unsure of Hamilton in the first verse, like who is this dude? By the second verse, they’re tentatively singing along, still sitting at the table watching (Laurens joins in first), and by the third they’re fully with him, singing along and choreographed in sync

* There’s a brief segue from “My Shot” to “The Story of Tonight” that isn’t reflected on the cast album—a few of the “whoa whoa whoaaaa”s from Laurens’ part in “My Shot”

* Jefferson loves to break the fourth wall with the audience—he calls for the applause and cheers in the beginning of “What’d I Miss”

* In “Stay Alive (reprise)”, while Eliza is trying to keep Philip’s focus with the “un, deux, trois…” the sound of a heartbeat can be heard over everything. When he dies, it stops. And, not reflected on the cast album, Eliza releases a heartbreaking scream and collapses on her son’s body

* At the end of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” the lights come up on the audience and Eliza looks out and gasps, hands covering her mouth and tears filling her eyes at the sight of all the people who came to see Alexander’s story

* Washington is onstage a lot more often than you’d think, on the second level watching what’s going on

* In “Burn” Eliza actually does burn paper on stage—you can smell the burning

* In “Nonstop” when Angelica tells Alexander “don’t forget to write” they were holding hands, then the turntable spins and pulls them apart

* Also in “Nonstop” when Hamilton is giving his spiel, several ensemble members and Burr are in chairs facing him, their backs to the audience. Burr turns in his chair to complain to the audience “he’s just nonstop”

* I’ve already mentioned Lin’s emotional face but UGH. Especially in “It’s Quiet Uptown”, the “forgiveness” part. He just looks up at the ceiling, eyes filled with tears, with an expression of “I don’t deserve this”

* The scene you may have heard about which isn’t on the cast album (because it isn’t a song—part of it is) about Laurens’ death is between Dear Theodosia and Nonstop. Eliza reads a letter to Hamilton about Laurens’ death while Laurens stands on the side of the stage bathed in blue light singing “The Story of Tonight” in between lines. It makes “Nonstop” more tragic than it has any right to be because, at the end of this mini-scene, Hamilton says, “I have so much work to do” and at the beginning of “Nonstop” he’s wiping away tears

* Lanterns come down from the ceiling to mimic the inside of a mansion—“A Winter’s Ball” all the way through “The Story of Tonight (reprise)”

* In “Take a Break” Philip sits at the piano with Eliza, and it revolves around the turntable so everyone can see, I guess

* In “The Adams Administration”, Hamilton stands on the second level with a giant stack of paper (his anti-Adams pamphlet) and drops it to the second level with a flash of red light and the sound of an explosion

* Hamilton is even more angry and sarcastic than you’d expect, constantly mocking Jefferson and Burr and making faces at them—the sass is SO REAL

* In “Stay Alive (reprise)” after Philip is shot, he freezes, and everything seems to move in slow motion. The turntable revolves him back to the back of the stage

* In “The Election of 1800” Burr and Jefferson look up at Hamilton on the second level, awaiting his decision—Burr’s face falls and he looks completely shocked when Hamilton chooses Jefferson

* In “The Reynolds Pamphlet” Madison and Jefferson take Philip aside and show him a copy of the pamphlet. He reads it and his head hangs and he walks away, Madison and Jefferson laughing

* This last one isn’t really an important staging note, but something I found funny. In “Satisfied”, during Angelica’s “3 fundamental truths” rap part, everyone has their backs to the audience but her. But because of where I was sitting, I could see the side of Lin’s face stage left. He was totally mouthing along to the lyrics. It made me very happy

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Writing Update

I haven’t updated in a LOOOONG time, so I thought I would today. I’d like to get back to writing a post every Monday, to keep myself on track, but it’s difficult now that I have a full-time job. I can’t commit to my writing, much less this blog!

But anyway.

I’m 45,000 words into In the Shadow of the Necropolis. 13,000 of those words were written during NaNoWriMo, then I was forced to give up. I haven’t written in about a month. I wanted to be finished by the end of the year, but I’d be happy with the end of January at this point. I’m about 2/3 of the way finished, if not more, though, so that’s a good thing!

I’m also still (sporadically) querying Soulreader. I haven’t given up on it yet! That story still holds a special place in my heart. I did get one favorite from an agent during PitMad a couple of weeks ago, so I sent a query to her. That query turned into a partial request, so I’m waiting to see what comes of that. You never know!

I hope everyone’s writing is going well, and that you have safe and happy holidays!

–Jenna

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So I’m Doing This PitchWars Thingie Again…

Hi guys! That’s right, I didn’t learn my lesson last year, so I’m back for round 2 of PitchWars.

But seriously, I had a great time last year and got feedback from some incredible mentors so, although I didn’t make it in, I decided to go for it again!

Now onto me (I really need one of these “official bio” things, don’t I?). I’m south Louisiana born and raised. I love football, food, and all things geeky! I’m currently into Doctor Who, Sherlock, Supernatural, Marvel movies . . . you name it, I’m probably into it and have forgotten!

Also, Chuck Shurley is my spirit animal, and a precious snowflake who must be defended! (Also I love his actor Rob Benedict *heart eyes* I’m meeting him in Houston in February!)

Now that THAT’s out of the way… About my book! It’s called Soulreader, and I’ve been working on it almost 2 years now. It’s about assassins, and revenge, and magical mutant-like powers! I started querying in January of this year, but haven’t had much luck yet. One partial request (later rejected), but I’m hoping to whip it into even better shape over the course of PitchWars. I love this book, and I would hate to sideline it (even more than I already have).

I’m also working on drafting a new YA fantasy, In the Shadow of the Necropolis, about a princess who is forced to take over for her brother, the king, when darkness engulfs their land and drives him mad. More magic, more revenge, and a dangerous, jungle kingdom roughly based on Mayan society. Just typing this makes me excited all over again! And gives me extra plot bunnies about the setting as another character . . . this first draft isn’t going extremely smoothly so far, but what first draft does? It’s going to be great . . . someday!

Well, that’s about all for me! If you’re a potential mentor stalking me, hi there! If you’re as big a geek as me, and you like the words I have put forth into the world, I think we would work great together. I am very thin-skinned, but the great thing about PitchWars is I can cry in the safety of my own home and no one will ever know! I kid (sort of). But seriously, I am willing to work hard to make Soulreader the best it can be, and if we have fun and laughs along the way, even better! And thanks for all your hard work, even if you don’t end up choosing me.

Also! Be sure to check out the Contestant Blog Hop over at Christopher Keelty’s blog, if you want to get to know the other writers 🙂

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On To The Next Adventure

Well, my undergraduate career came to an uneventful end yesterday afternoon, when I submitted my final research paper for one of my online classes. I woke up this morning not quite sure what to do. I guess the answer is: anything! I have no more assignments to turn in, textbooks to read, or tests to study for. I have nowhere to go, no one to see, and no events to plan. Usually, at the end of the semester, that’s so freeing, but this time it’s a little terrifying.

Obviously, the job search starts this week. I found a couple of jobs online last night that look interesting, so I might send my resume for those. I’m still waiting to hear back about New York, but I’m beginning to think that might not pan out. Which is okay, really. At least I tried! It would be nice to work there, doing what I love, but maybe not immediately. I should work for a few years, build up my resume while staying close to home, before leaving in such a drastic way. But I guess that depends on what kind of news I get! If I am offered a job, I can’t see any reason I would say no (besides fear, but everyone has that).

Besides job hunting, I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks working on In the Shadow of the Necropolis. I decided only to make full-blown character charts for my three central characters, and keep the less-detailed sketches for the others. I think I know everyone’s motivations well enough, so I don’t need their whole life story, likes, and dislikes. I only have one more character chart to build, then I can work on my scene list and, finally, drafting! I’m still very excited about this story, which is good. Every time I’m away from it for a while, I start doubting it, but when I delve back into the characters and their backstories, I remember why I decided to write this story to begin with. It’s going to be very different from anything I’ve ever done in some ways, but familiar in others. It’s actually a little risky and outside my comfort zone on some levels, but I can’t think of any better way to write it. And isn’t that the whole point? To write not necessarily what you know, but to sometimes write what you don’t know? That’s why I make my characters totally unlike me in every way except maybe one or two: so I can understand and empathize with different kinds of people.

That being said, I can’t wait to dive into Eleuia, Teyakoatl, and Icanya’s world of Ixtan! Pyramids, cenotes, a royal court, carvings, and a pet jaguar that I just invented last night. It’s going to be GREAT. Hopefully, by this time next week I’ll be updating you by saying I’ve finished the first draft of my scene list. I can’t wait to share my writing journey with you this summer. It’s been too long since I drafted a novel, and I’m getting anxious to start! Hopefully you will learn a little bit about what it’s like in the typical week of a writer, even if it is only that we’re crazy . . .

–Jenna

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Moving On Is Hard To Do

I know I’ve written about it before: the inevitable end to the semester and the search for what’s next. The thing is, I always kind of figured I would look for something local, find an apartment, and move out. Sure, I applied to a couple of internships with publishing houses in New York, but I never heard back from them. Now… I don’t know. I’m applying for an actual job in New York City, and I think I might have a chance, however small. I don’t want to get my hopes up, even though it would be amazing to work there, and also because I’m a little bit terrified. I never expected my first adventure in living on my own would be so far away! It reminds me of the six weeks I lived in California in 2013. Yes, it was only six weeks, but it was huge for me.

I can’t fool myself, though. If I do get the job, of course I’ll go. If I don’t, I don’t, but if I do… it would be an adjustment, but I would absolutely do it. Besides being a writer, this is the thing I want to do more than anything else. I have to go for it! Sometimes the things that scare us the most are the things we need to do. It’s taken me years to understand that. I’m still afraid of so many things, but I’m trying not to let it define me anymore.

To be continued!

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Branching Out

Despite my best intentions, it looks like my blog is becoming a bimonthly affair, instead of weekly. Not forever, hopefully, but for now it’s going that way. I haven’t been able to find much to write about, since I’m not writing a new book (yet), and querying is slow. Finding the TIME is a problem, too, especially now that I’m almost finished with my last semester of college.

But what I AM doing is teaching myself the art of the screenplay. I’ve been wanting to try one for a while now, and I’m finally picking up books on how to format one. It looks daunting, but I actually enjoy the structure of it. The way a novel is formatted, there are words all OVER the page. I kind of like the centered, capital letters and bolded words of screenplays.

Is that weird?

Right now I’m reading The Screenwriting Formula, by Rob Tobin. As a first introduction to screenwriting, it’s interesting, but it can get a little tedious at times. Knowing the generic formula for movies is good, but I thought I was going to get a book on the actual format. I like to know HOW to do things. I know how to build a story already. But I got a couple of screenwriting books from the book sale last month, too, so maybe those will be better. I also printed off a copy of the script for the pilot of LOST, so I have an actual, real-life example of great (TV) scriptwriting to reference. After all, that’s the best way to learn something: don’t read books about how to do it, read examples! I know there are some differences between a movie screenplay and a TV script, but I want to learn both anyway.

I am also super excited to announce that, since I last updated, one of my critique partners has gotten an AGENT!! My wonderful friend Joanna Meyer is now represented by Sarah Davies, of The Greenhouse Literary Agency. It’s been a long, crazy road to representation for Joanna, and she deserves it more than anyone else I know. I’ve read two of her books, SEER’S SONG and THE WHALE AND THE TREE (which is the one which got her an agent), and they’re both wonderful! I can’t wait to see her work in print. The only thing I’m sad about is that we can no longer commiserate on agent rejections through private Twitter messages! 😉

–Jenna

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Sneak Preview of IN THE SHADOW OF THE NECROPOLIS

Happy Monday, everyone! I am so excited for the upcoming Easter holiday, and the (tiny) break I get from school. I can’t believe I’m taking my last undergraduate finals in a month, and graduating two weeks after that!

I’m keeping busy with my classes, editing my school’s literary magazine, writing my senior thesis (a short story/possible novella, yay!) and reading for The Booker Albert Literary Agency, but I’m still trying to plot out my new fantasy, IN THE SHADOW OF THE NECROPOLIS. And now that I’ve written the synopsis, I thought I might share a teaser with you!

One sentence summary: 

A girl must brave a necropolis to save her brother from madness and her kingdom from invasion.

Paragraph synopsis:

The Shadow is falling over Ixtan. As its dark rays lengthen over the royal sector, Eleuia is helpless to stop her brother, the king, from delivering a speech to the people of Ixtan, daring the other city-states to invade them in his half-madness. As his madness grows worse, Eleuia delves into the depths of the Necropolis, where even the priests fear to go, in the hopes of finding a cure, a supernatural intervention—anything from the vague ancient texts that can help her brother. When she comes up empty, Eleuia emerges back into the half-light of Ixtan to a plot—the priests and many of the nobles are no longer satisfied with her brother’s rule, and they plan to allow the other city-states to invade Ixtan while the Shadow lays across it. Eleuia must pretend to support their plan (or risk ritual sacrifice) while racing against time to find a way to destroy the necropolis.

~*~*~*~

So, there it is! Some parts may change before I start writing, and even as I write, but that’s the basic plot I have laid out! I have a one-page (and four-page!) synopsis, but I didn’t want to paste it here, as it’s riddled with spoilers 😉 I’m excited about working on this new book, and I hope it’s something that sounds interesting to readers! The plan is to start writing sometime in April, probably towards the end. I’m not sure if that will actually happen, since the madness of graduation is going to start then (really, it already has), but we’ll see! I’ve been sending my critique partners my synopsis and other things as I write them; that’s how excited I am to share this story with them and see what they think. All good things, so far!

So tell me, what are you working on? I want to hear all about your novels, your short stories, your grocery lists (okay, maybe not that last one)… Leave me a comment!

–Jenna

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