Alexander Hamilton on the U.S. ten dollar bill | Adobe Stock photo
By Joe Livernois
The last of about 6,000 Monterey County eighth-graders trucked up to the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco on Wednesday to experience “Hamilton.” And then, a few hours after the curtain fell, representatives from the Dan and Lillian King Foundation announced that next year’s class of Monterey County eighth-graders will share the experience.
“We’re doing it again,” said Marc Del Piero, a King Foundation board member and the original mastermind behind the effort. “We have enough money to send another 9,000 students to see Hamilton.”
The new batch of students will be shuttled from their schools to the Orpheum on four separate days at the end of August and the first week of September. The field trips will come soon after the new school year begins — and just before “Hamilton” shuts down its extended San Francisco run. To accommodate all students before the closure of the musical, the King Foundation bought out the house for four matinees.
The announcement was made at a King Foundation VIP party at the Orpheum that featured the cast and crew after Wednesday’s performance. Also attending were representatives from the National Center for Constitutional Studies and the National Arts Council, who traveled from Washington D.C. to witness firsthand what the foundation is doing to get Monterey County students to see the cultural phenomenon.
More than 1,200 students from southern Monterey County, Big Sur and private schools on the Monterey Peninsula attended the performance on Wednesday.
Getting students from the far corners of the South County and Big Sur was the ultimate test of the complicated logistics that the King Foundation and the Monterey County Office of Education officials devised. The smaller schools in South County sent their students to pick-up sites in South County to catch the Discovery Charters charter buses — buses with air conditioning and restrooms — that have been shuttling students to the Orpheum throughout the year. The South County group included 11 students from San Antonio Union Elementary School, the school in Lockwood, population 379. The school is located 175 miles from San Francisco.
Heather Robbins, the eighth-grade language arts teacher at San Antonio, said that parents drove their children to a middle school in King City, about 30 minutes away, where a charter bus awaited them for their trip to San Francisco.
The students were excited, Robbins said, and the class spent Tuesday listening to the soundtrack again to prepare for the trip. The big concern for Hamilton-goers this week was the outcome of the Super Bowl, she said. Had the San Francisco 49ers won, the victory parade was scheduled on Wednesday and the route would have been down Market Street, where the Orpheum is located. Buses and kids would have had to work their way through a celebratory crowd. It turned out to be a moot point, since the 49ers disappointed their fans with a fourth-quarter Super Bowl collapse.
By all accounts, the audacious local “Hamilton” effort this school year went off without major hitches, but Del Piero acknowledged that the effort later this year will be a true test of logistics. The foundation will be tasked with transporting 9,000 students, teachers and chaperones from Monterey County to the Orpheum over a course of eight days.
“I think I might have to move up there for two weeks,” said Steve Collins, executive director of the King Foundation.
The campaign to get eighth-graders to learn about the origins of the United States through the prism of “Hamilton” came about when the board overseeing the King Foundation sought fresh ideas. The mission of the foundation is to advance learning of the U.S. Constitution, but until this school year that meant merely distributing copies of the Constitution to graduating eighth-graders. That meager effort barely drew down the assets of the foundation.
Lillian King was the widow of an heir to the storied King Ranch in Texas. The ranch is spread out over 825,000 acres across six different counties and was the model for “Giant,” the Edna Ferbe novel later made into a film starring James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor. Dan and Liillian King moved to the Monterey Peninsula in the 1980s, purchasing five or six homes and keeping a relatively low profile.
When Lillian King died in 2011, her estate was estimated to be worth about $6.5 million, and most of that was the value of the Asilomar house in which she died. Nader Agha, a friend, established the King Foundation with her assets. After expenses and other obligations, the foundation had about $3.7 million in its account.
Seeking fresh ideas, the foundation lured Del Piero to its board. Del Piero, a former Monterey County supervisor and state Water Resources Control Board member, came up with the idea to invite Lin-Manuel Miranda and his cast to Monterey County for special presentations of “Hamilton” to eighth-graders. Miranda, who wrote the book, music and lyrics of “Hamilton,” nixed that idea. But Del Piero figured that if “Hamilton” wouldn’t come to Monterey County, the King Foundation should figure out a way to send Monterey County to “Hamilton.”
In addition to sending students to see the show, the Monterey County Office of Education created a curriculum that teaches students about the founding of the nation using the soundtrack of the musical sensation as a guide.
The Broadway production of “Hamilton” won 11 Tony Awards and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize.
Meanwhile, Disney on Tuesday announced that it has purchased the rights to “Hamilton” for $75 million and expects the movie version, with the original Broadway cast, to be released in October 2021.
The field trip has inspired more than a few school performances featuring music from the show, including this from the International School of Monterey. And Mac + Ava Motion Pictures company of Monterey is producing a video documentary of the “Hamilton” experience that features schools, students, teachers — and one of the charter bus drivers — from Greenfield to Pajaro.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of students who saw “Hamilton” and the number of pupils who will see it next school year. The King Foundation purchased 9,000 tickets each year, but there are only about 6,000 eighth graders in Monterey County. The rest of the tickets are for chaperones, teachers and special guests.
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