Theatres may be closed, and stages made quiet, but Giles Terera’s Hamilton and Me opens the curtains to uncover the back stage work, emotions, and relationships which make up the infamous musical that is Hamilton. There are few who have not followed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s world-renowned Hamilton and its global success, however Hamilton and Me brings life to the musical off-stage offering us a behind the scenes entrance into the world of theatre. Authored by Giles Terera, MBE award-winning actor, author, filmmaker, and musician, Hamilton and Me Is nothing if not an all-encompassing approach to the multi-faceted nature of acting.
If Terera’s performance of Aaron Burr was deceptive and cunning, then his memoir lies in stark contrast given its honesty, rawness, and clarity. Informed, vivacious, and confessional Hamilton and Me embraces the physical and emotional duress, celebrations, and energy that acting in a world-famous musical requires.
Written in what Terera coins as his ‘funky syntax’ the book is authentically formed from the celebrated actor’s own journal he kept during the audition, rehearsal and performance of Hamilton. Terera’s actor’s journal is structured by the stages of production, documenting months of audition preparation, the auditions themselves, months of rehearsal, theatre rehearsals, the performances, and the aftermath. These snippets of thoughts, feelings, interactions, and personal anecdotes brought together in hindsight of the production together unveil Terera’s personal transformations alongside Hamilton’s own growth.
Author of Hamilton the musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda, forwards Hamilton and Me and speaks about Terera’s ‘clarity of his storytelling’ both onstage and across his memoir, a clarity I found to be invaluable to the book. In a sort of raw stream of consciousness, Terera covers everything from the mundanity of food to deeper reflections of family, death and moving forward. The narrative is stripped back in style but generous in detail - a real insight into the actor’s mind. Memories, verses, lines, and lyrics from Hamilton become entangled in Terera’s own life to show the personal side of a globally recognised production. Always focussing on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’, Terera opens up about how his life experiences from adolescence to adulthood have informed and become tools for his award-wining and widely celebrated acting career. Terera consistently poses questions of self-reflection, urging himself to constantly challenge, analyse, and improve his own capabilities. There is a bravery in this offering up of both personal dreams and doubts to strangers.
Scans of Terera’s original handwritten journal entries scrawled across notepad upon notepad and scraps of paper add to this intimacy. The mix of professional photos, iPhone selfies, candid shots, screenshots from Terera’s camera roll and Instagram help to bring the journal to life and locate Terera’s ideas within the stages of production.
Journeying through the rich history of the musical itself, Terera speaks of his inherent connection to Aaron Burr, his gut feelings, and the pull towards the cryptic character.
However, Hamilton and Me does not shy away from displaying the endeavour of making a character – especially a historic figure – one’s own. From months of historical and biographical research to the dissection of intonation and semantics in songs, the role is far from just learning lines. A character is not limited to a script.
Despite Terera’s impressively expansive body of experience, he explains how each role requires a unique approach. He does not downplay his struggles but instead includes them to encourage and inform aspiring actors how much an actor has to give for a role. Through this, Terera shows the difference between becoming rather than merely playing a character onstage. Through humour, work, and enjoyment Hamilton and Me documents how an actor is simultaneously made by and makes a role. Unique and compelling, Hamilton and Me is both like reading a diary and also an original, informative guide for the acting profession.
Hamilton and Me shows that the making of a production is a story in itself, a performance of cast members and crew and their own lives and rituals. Terera’s authenticity and modesty, his willingness to confess to both these struggles as well as successes is refreshing. Terera’s actor’s journal displays that the performances are the mere tips of the icebergs when it comes to the fabrication of a production, especially one so admired and complex as Hamilton. Hamilton has been seen through so many eyes, but Terera’s memoir allows us to experience what is otherwise invisible and muted onstage. Honestly, Hamilton fans and aspiring actors will not want to miss out! Terera’s actor’s journal is a truly invaluable book.
[Edited by Maisie Allen, Literature Editor]