Monday, June 13, 2016

A Sturdy Vessel

So today, the Broadway baby in me just has to talk about what every theatre nut is talking about today: Hamilton.

The new and innovative rap musical features the life of a young American man who "embodies hip hop best;" founding father Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton was an extremely dedicated man, causing him to come across as one "arrogant, loud-mouth bother." He was also a writer, so dedicated to his work that he was known for writing like he was "running out of time." I didn't know any of this, along with a lot of other critical historical information, until I heard the Broadway soundtrack. But Hamilton doesn't just teach our historically challenged young students about America's beginning: it's teaching everyone some pretty critical lessons about life.

The musical was nominated for a record of sixteen Tony Awards last night, taking home eleven of them. I've always said that it would be a box-office buster like Phantom of the Opera (and that's already proving to be true), but tonight they even made history on the Tony's. And as much as I admire Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr) and aspire to be half as gracefully elegant as Phillipa Soo (Eliza Schuyler Hamilton), there's one face of Hamilton that stands out of among the others: Lin Manuel Miranda.

If you've heard about Broadway shows, listened to some soundtracks, or even logged onto a social media site, you've probably seen that name. He's the lead in Hamilton. Yes, Alexander Hamilton himself. But that's not all. In fact, that's not even the beginning. He wrote the script, and the music, and the lyrics, and he stars as the lead in his own musical. And I don't know him personally, but I'm just as obsessed as the rest of the world. I've watched my fair share of interviews, telecasts, and behind the scenes footage, and I am convinced that he is quite possibly the most humble man in the world. I'm serious. As easy as it would be for him to become quite the "arrogant, loud-mouth bother" like his character, he has remained thankful, honored, and gracious through the entire process.

I talk a lot about beauty distortion, specifically about physicality. And physicality is important. Body positivity is important. I wouldn't write so much about it if it wasn't. But today, I'm not writing about Miranda because he's a prime advocate for body positivity. I'm not writing about him because he's a prime advocate against beauty distortion. I'm writing about him because he's a prime example of beauty.

That's my favorite quote about body positivity, not because it's talking about taking care of your body in a healthy and self-respected manner, but because it has its priorities in order. Our body is temporary. The older we get, the more our joints will pop. Our muscles will give out. Our bodies will fail us. But our souls will not. We aren't instructed to take care of our bodies and stay healthy because it will make our bodies immortal. We are instructed to take care of our bodies and stay healthy because there is a part of us that is already immortal, and it needs to be carried by the strongest, healthiest, most confident and respected version of our physical selves.

Lin Manuel Miranda, by personal preference, isn't particularly model material. He's certainly not hard on the eyes. But he's no James Dean or anything. And yet, the whole world is enthralled by him. Because of his talent. Because of his intelligence. Because of his determination, creativity, and humility.

In the midst of fighting for beauty distortion, I often forget what beauty distortion really is, and how we've been fighting it far longer than our society has photoshopped advertisements and airbrushed models. Beauty distortion has been present since the first moment we started valuing what people looked like over who they are as a person. Don't get me wrong: photoshopping is a problem. Airbrushing is a problem. The fact that our society's standard for a 5'4" woman (like myself) is under 100 pounds is undoubtedly a problem.

But realize that if the root of the problem was healed, all these peripheral problems would cease to exist. If we truly valued people over the body they lived in, there would be no reason to photoshop. There would be no need to airbrush. The body shaming present in our society would be completely unnecessary.

Watching Lin Manuel Miranda through this quick fling to fame, I've learned a lot more from him than creative determination. I've learned that when we concentrate less on what we look like, and more on what we're capable of, we flourish in ways beyond our wildest dreams. We are, and always have been, our own worst nightmare. More often than not, we hold our own selves back out of fear of judgement.

When Miranda showed up at the White House with nothing but a rough outline and volunteered to rap for the President and First Lady about the life of Alexander Hamilton, they laughed. Everyone was laughing. Who wouldn't? That's absolutely ridiculous!

No one's laughing now.

That musical just took home eleven Tony awards in one evening. It has broken the box office sales. People can't get tickets for shows a year in advance and are paying over a thousand dollars per seat. That musical has revolutionized theatre, merging the very beginning of America's culture with America today, taking an approach that had never before been considered. And if it was considered, it was considered ludicrous.

I do think we should take care of our bodies. I do think we should love the skin we live in. I do think we should respect the vessel that allows us to follow the dreams our soul burns for. But more than anything, I think we need to get out of our own way. We can name a lot of things that stand in the way of our greatest pursuits, but what if all those things aren't really there? What if the only obstacle we're facing is us?

Don't let people tell you that you're not pretty because they don't think you are. Their opinion has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. Don't let people tell you that you aren't strong enough when they can't see what you're going through from where they sit. Don't let them tell you that you're not smart enough; it only makes them more naïve. And don't let someone tell you that your dream, your hope, your calling is too big, too unrealistic, or too unattainable because they were too afraid to chase theirs.

There's a little tribute from Tony Host James Corden that completely wraps up what I'm trying to say... But when you read it, keep in mind, it doesn't have to be theatre. It doesn't have to be art. It could be science, writing, baking, drawing, banking, or teaching. It can be just about anything, but I think you get the picture.

"To every future leading man who's making his debut, in his fifth grade class as Peter Pan or Pirate #2... To every future dancing queen whose feet are set to fly, or the tiny toddler's tap routine next Sunday at the Y... To the theatre kids from any place with stardust in their eyes, of every color, class and race and face and shape and size, to all the boys and girls out there, to every Broadway would-be... Don't wonder if this could be you. It absolutely could be."

Lift up your head princess, and straighten your crown. Make sure your vessel is sturdy; not for the approval of those around you, but so your soul will have a healthy, comfortable, respected, and cherished place to live. Confidence is one of the most powerful and most unacknowledged weapons of all time. Don't forget to use it.

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