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Feature: Lin-Manuel Miranda on The Atlantic on What Art Can Do

[ Written on November 09 2019 by Francesca ]

Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote an editorial for The Atlantic. Read it below.

The Role of the Artist in the Age of Trump

And the power of stories that are unshakably true

All art is political. In tense, fractious times—like our current moment—all art is political. But even during those times when politics and the future of our country itself are not the source of constant worry and anxiety, art is still political. Art lives in the world, and we exist in the world, and we cannot create honest work about the world in which we live without reflecting it. If the work tells the truth, it will live on.

Public Enemy’s “911 Is a Joke,” George Orwell’s 1984, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s whole damn catalog—all are political works that tell the truth.

Yes, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Consider The Sound of Music. It isn’t just about climbing mountains and fording streams. Look beyond the adorable von Trapp children: It’s about the looming existential threat of Nazism. No longer relevant? A GIF of Captain von Trapp tearing up a Nazi flag is something we see 10 times a day on Twitter, because all sorts of Nazis are out there again in 2019. As last spring’s searing Broadway revival of Oklahoma! revealed, lying underneath Hammerstein’s elephant-eye-high corn and chirping birds is a lawless society becoming itself, bending its rules and procedures based on who is considered part of the community (Curly) and who is marginalized (poor Jud … seriously, poor Jud). Or consider your parents’ favorite, South Pacific. At its center, our hero, Nellie Forbush, must confront her own internalized racism when she learns that the new love of her life has biracial children from a previous marriage. Let your parents know if they forgot: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals form the spine of Broadway’s “golden age,” and they also deeply engage with the politics of their era.

My first Broadway musical, In the Heights, is an example of how time can reveal the politics inherent within a piece of art. When I began writing this musical, as a college project at Wesleyan University, it was an 80-minute collegiate love story with a promising mix of Latin music and hip-hop, but it was pretty sophomoric (which is appropriate; I was a sophomore). After college, I started from scratch with the director Thomas Kail and the playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and we shifted the show’s focus from the love story to Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan where everyone is from everywhere. In the 20th century, Washington Heights was often home to the latest wave of immigrants. It was an Irish neighborhood; it was a Russian Jewish neighborhood (Yeshiva University is up there). If you take the Dominican store sign down you’ll see a sign for an Irish pub underneath it, and if you take that down you’ll find Hebrew. Washington Heights was heavily Dominican when I was growing up, and it remains so, with a vibrant Mexican and Latin American immigrant community as well.

As we wrote about this Upper Manhattan community on the verge of change, we looked to our musical-theater forebears. In Cabaret, the upheaval facing the characters in Berlin is the rise of the Nazi Party. In Fiddler on the Roof, the town of Anatevka struggles to hold on to its traditions as the world changes around it, and the threat of pogroms looms. For our musical world, upheaval comes in the form of gentrification. This is obviously different from fascism and pogroms; it’s not even in the same moral universe. How you begin to dramatize something as subtle and multifaceted as gentrification poses some tricky questions. We threw our characters into the same dilemma faced by their real-life working-class counterparts: What do we do when we can’t afford to live in the place we’ve lived all our lives, especially when we are the ones who make the neighborhood special and attractive to others? Each of the characters confronts this question differently: One sacrifices the family business to ensure his child’s educational future. Another relocates to the less expensive Bronx. Our narrator decides to stay, despite the odds, taking on the responsibility of telling this neighborhood’s stories and carrying on its traditions.

We received great reviews. If critics had a common criticism, it was that the show, its contemporary music aside, was somehow old-fashioned or “sentimental.” Gentrification, the businesses closing, the literal powerlessness as the characters face a blackout that affects only their neighborhood—these issues, always there in the material, didn’t register with most theater critics in 2008. In the Heights was considered a hit by Broadway standards. It didn’t leap off the Arts page and into the national conversation like Hamilton would, but we won some Tonys, recouped our investment, and had a wonderful three-year run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton now lives. We posted our Broadway closing notice at the end of 2010.

What a difference 10 years makes.

Right now, Jon M. Chu is editing his feature-film adaptation of In the Heights, which is scheduled to be released in June. We spent a joyous summer shooting the film—on location, in our neighborhood—and issues that were always inherent in the text now stand out in bold-faced type. Gentrification has rendered Lower Manhattan, Harlem, and much of Brooklyn unrecognizable to the previous generations that called those neighborhoods home. The East Village of Jonathan Larson’s Rent is nonexistent, lettered avenues notwithstanding. And the narrative of immigrants coming to this country and making a better life for themselves—the backdrop of everything that happens in In the Heights, across three generations of stories—is somehow a radical narrative now.

Donald Trump came down the escalator to declare his presidential run, and in his first speech he demonized Mexicans: They’re rapists; they’re bringing drugs; they’re not sending their best people. We young Latinos had thought of our parents and grandparents as the latest wave making its home in this country, and we thought that we would be the next group to make this place a better place, to prove once again that the American dream wasn’t just a figment of some propagandist’s imagination. And now we’re in a different age when, for some, considering an immigrant a human being is a radical political act.

Consider this rap, written 12 years ago and delivered by Sonny, In the Heights’ youngest character, in a song called “96,000”:

“Your kids are living without a good edumacation,
Change the station, teach ’em about gentrification,
The rent is escalatin’
The rich are penetratin’
We pay our corporations when we should be demonstratin’
What about immigration?
Politicians be hatin’
Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant”

It was always political. It was always there. Donald Trump made it even more true.

Trump uses language to destroy empathy. He criminalizes the impulse and imperative to seek asylum, to seek a place to live thousands of miles away because the alternative at home is worse. Through his lens, these seekers are not people; they’re “animals” or “bad hombres.”

What artists can do is bring stories to the table that are unshakably true—the sort of stories that, once you’ve heard them, won’t let you return to what you thought before. I think about the crisis on the border constantly. I think about the famous photograph of a little girl crying beside a Border Patrol truck. That picture went viral because it seemed to capture the horror of family separations. But it turned out that the girl wasn’t being separated from her mother—her mother had simply been ordered to put her daughter down while she was searched by agents. The family was in distress, and the border crisis was real, but people used the details of this particular incident to close themselves off from empathy. “Fake news,” they said. A child is crying for her mother, but that’s not enough to keep people from pushing empathy away. I believe great art is like bypass surgery. It allows us to go around all of the psychological distancing mechanisms that turn people cold to the most vulnerable among us.

At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them. We keep revisiting Shakespeare’s Macbeth because ruthless political ambition does not belong to any particular era. We keep listening to Public Enemy because systemic racism continues to rain tragedy on communities of color. We read Orwell’s 1984 and shiver at its diagnosis of doublethink, which we see coming out of the White House at this moment. And we listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, as Lieutenant Cable sings about racism, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” It’s all art. It’s all political.

Feature: Lin-Manuel Miranda on Times Magazine for His Dark Materials

[ Written on October 19 2019 by Francesca ]

On Saturday October, 19 Lin-Manuel Miranda graced the cover of Times Magazine with a long interview where he touches many topics, from the upcoming TV show His Dark Materials to how he takes care of his mental health.

In our Gallery you can see a new promo picture from His Dark Materials and a new portrat, while below you can read some highlights from the article.

Television Projects > His Dark Materials (2019)Promo Photo Sessions > Session 018Session 018

He claims to be totally exhausted, in the middle of a busy day promoting His Dark Materials (set in a parallel universe in which our young heroine, Lyra, leaves Oxford in search of a lost friend; Miranda plays the character of Lee Scoresby, an aeronaut who flies a balloon), adding that he has barely slept. (“It was musical beds. I went to bed with my wife. At 1am the baby started crying and she went to his room and then never came back, and around 2am my other son crawled in and slept perpendicular to me, his feet in my face.”) But he is nevertheless one of the bounciest people I have ever met.

He cheerfully insists he loves the Pullman trilogy of books, which have sold more than 22 million copies globally (“I fell in love with them in my mid-twenties. When I started dating my wife, they were one of the series we read together, and I was really thrilled to be asked to be a part of it”) and says he “adores” working with puppeteers (everyone in Lyra’s world is permanently accompanied by an animal daemon that is an external manifestation of their inner self, and the actors performed opposite these daemons in puppet form). Working on Sesame Street – a “thrill” – was good preparation for the task (“The best part of that gig is the first time you do it, you get a PDF file which is the vocal ranges of the Muppets, and that’s a cool PDF to have”), he likes being in Cardiff, where it is being filmed (“Listen, I have a four-year-old little boy who is super-into knights and dragons, so the fact that I’m in a place where there’s a castle every exit on the motorway is pretty great”) and is treasuring the opportunity to travel with his family (“We knew there was a cap on our time to travel because my son starts kindergarten in the fall … Then I’ll be home”). And yes, Cardiff does count as thrilling travel. “The only people who are snobby about Cardiff are Londoners! You know what I love? I love hanging around the mall! I grew up in the city, so malls are still kind of a novelty to me.”

“We got our first car last summer: it’s a wagon that fits two child car seats.” And I read he still lives in the Washington Heights/Inwood neighbourhood in Upper Manhattan that he grew up in? “Yeah, I live 20 blocks from where I grew up, and all four grandparents are walking distance from my kids – that’s the best thing.” Before we get carried away about his humble ways, I should say there are two PRs listening in to our conversation from a table behind us, and when I refer to a claim that he still flies commercial, it turns out the experience of starring in the recent Mary Poppins Returns has left him not unaccustomed to the occasional private jet. “I fly commercial most of the time.” A coy glance. “If it’s Disney and they want you to be back at a certain time, and you are doing press for them, you serve the pleasure of the Walt Disney Company.”

I refuse to believe he hasn’t splashed out more. “When does this come out? It is my wife’s birthday in two weeks, and my wife’s favourite book is Moby-Dick. I went to a rare books place this morning and bought a first-edition complete Melville, and I will not tell her how much I spent on it. It was expensive: it was not as much as a car, but it was expensive. It’s funny – I’ve met other composers who have hits, and they all have the eccentricity that wealth has allowed them to have. You know, Andrew Lloyd Webber famously has art falling off his walls, and he has a couple of theatres – I’m never going to buy a theatre! You go to Stephen Sondheim’s house: he’s got puzzles; he’s a puzzle guy. Alan Menken, composer of The Little Mermaid, has a tortorium [turtle house]. I’m in the market for an eccentricity.”

It turns out that he went into therapy to help deal with the change. “I’ve been in therapy intensively twice in my life; I’m probably due for a third. The first time was after sophomore year [the second year] in college, breaking up with my first serious girlfriend. We’d been together for four and a half years. It was like a summer of therapy and it was great. The other time I did it, the other summer of therapy, was in the transition between off-Broadway and Broadway for In the Heights, and it was sort of beginning to deal with success, and my relationship with my girlfriend, now wife, was getting serious, so I just had a ton of shit that I needed to sort out on the table.”

He says he doesn’t get recognised that often, and characteristically doesn’t mind when he is (“People are 99 per cent of the time cool”), but I realise at this point that the two business executives on the table next to us have given up analysing spreadsheets on their laptops in favour of eavesdropping on this increasingly intimate conversation. He said he might be due another round of therapy? “Sure. My life’s changed a lot, I’m juggling a lot and I’m trying to be the best parent I can and the best husband I can. That balance is always hard. I could probably use a couple of sessions to work all that shit out. I could probably do with another summer.”

Read the whole feature under the cut.

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Feature: His Dark Materials on The Sunday Times

[ Written on October 06 2019 by Francesca ]

The Sunday Times has a long feature about His Dark Materials, the show produced by the BBC and the HBO, full of pictures from behind the scenes and interviews with Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

In our Gallery you can see Lin-Manuel on set as Lee Scoresby with the puppet that serves as his dæmon Hester, and below you can read his part of the article.

A two-hour drive north of Cardiff, I am greeted by the anomalous sight of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the American creator and star of Hamilton: An American Musical, standing next to a hot-air balloon in the middle of a Welsh forest dressed in full country-and-western leathers. Miranda is playing Lee Scoresby, the swashbuckling aeronaut who helps Lyra on her journey. He has spent half of last year and half of this year living in Cardiff with his young family. How is he enjoying God’s own country? “I had no preconceptions of Wales,” he says. “Wales is not in the global imagination in the way that London is, or even Scotland or Ireland, so my family came over to beautiful countryside and we lived in a nice part of town near the mall. It was wonderful and then on our weekends we would go and explore a different part. They have castles everywhere to play with.” Before we meet, several cast and crew have whispered about the extent of his immersion in local culture. He has found a musical-theatre singalong in a local pub and has become a regular attendee. When I ask if that could possibly be true, he says, “Why would I miss that?”

To say he’s loving the part is an understatement. “On my first day, I got to do one of those classic bar scenes in a western,” he says, “where you come in and you say the wrong name and the music stops and everyone turns and looks up from their deck of cards.” He took the part because he and his wife had read the books when they’d just started dating. “They’re kind of in our courtship,” he says. He was also won over by the fact that Jack Thorne was writing the script. “Dealing with this beloved literary series is like threading the impossible needle. But I loved Jack’s adaptation of Harry Potter. He’d already done it once, so I trusted his ability to do it with Pullman’s work.”

He nods when I suggest the deeper theme of the trilogy — of Lyra’s pursuit of truth — is particularly apposite in an era of fake news. “You’re talking to the token American in the cast and it couldn’t be more relevant,” he says. “In terms of our current president dumping facts from the EPA website or, what I wish was less relevant, the notion of separating children. That is a major plotline in our series and that is a crisis happening at our border [with Mexico] right now. The big theme of Philip Pullman’s world is the notion of what happens when giant forces, whether they be governmental or religious, try to oppress us. That is universal. The teams will have different names, but that is the universal thing he hits at.”

From there, he digresses into his love of Welsh cakes and British sweets — “I’ve been munching on Dip Dabs and flying saucers” — before he is called back to his hot-air balloon by the director.

Read the whole feature under the cut.

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Feature: Lin-Manuel Miranda writes a piece about Freestyle Love Supreme

[ Written on September 01 2019 by Francesca ]

On BroadwayDirect, Lin-Manuel Miranda penned a letter telling the story of how the improvised hip-hop met and stared to perform.

Freestyle Love Supreme will start previews at the Booth Theatre on September 13, get your ticket!

It’s 2003, and Anthony Veneziale and I are freestyle rapping around a piano in the basement of the Drama Book Shop. Anthony works here. I’m supposed to be working on my new musical In the Heights, but on every break Anthony comes in and we freestyle instead. I bang out chords on the piano, while Anthony and I make each other laugh, making up rhymes on the spot, telling stories, going back and forth. Anthony keeps saying, “we should do this in front of people.”
He has to say it a lot of times before I realize he’s serious.
Our first performance as Freestyle Love Supreme is the day after the great NYC Blackout of 2003. The city is still coming back to life. Our performance was supposed to be at the Peoples Improv Troupe Theater on 29thStreet, but that block still doesn’t have electricity yet. The Drama Book Shop on 40th Street does. So we lead the 16 friends who came to see us to the bookshop basement, and we are so grateful that we make up raps about each and every one of them. A hilarious evening of theater that is only theirs.
We grow. Thomas Kail, who has been directing In the Heights (and would go on to direct Hamilton) is soon directing us, guiding us towards us shaping an evening that allows us maximum freedom as improvisers and a satisfying night of theater for the audience. Christopher Jackson and Bill Sherman, who have been working on In the Heights in the basement with us, join right away. I bring in Arthur “The Geniuses” Lewis, who I’ve known since third grade, and is one of the best musicians I know. Chris “Shockwave” Sullivan, a brilliant beatboxer and improviser, joins us to provide the beat and we are never the same. And over the years, we find more and more people with this unique skill set: to make people laugh, to tell a story spontaneously, all while rapping at the same time. The squad grows. Utkarsh Ambudkar. Andrew Bancroft. James Monroe Iglehart. Daveed Diggs.
When you’re performing a traditional show on Broadway night after night, people sometimes ask you, “How do you keep your performance fresh?” This is never a concern with Freestyle Love Supreme. The show is always fresh. It changes every night. All of our suggestions of what we freestyle and sing about come from you, the audience. You are our greatest collaborator. We build it together and it becomes a unique shared experience. It’s one of the reasons we have people lock their phones when they come see the show. It’s only meant to exist for the time we’re all together and then it’s gone. We are listening so intently to you to make our show, and you are listening in turn. Every night, you are going to suggest how we play onstage, and you are going to get a hilarious evening of theater that is only yours.
Over the years, Freestyle Love Supreme has had the great fortune to perform all over the world. We’ve toured the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as the Aspen, Melbourne and Montreal Comedy Festivals. We got matching tattoos. We’ve had fantastic shows in NYC at great venues including Ars Nova, the PIT, and the Gramercy Theatre. In between these runs, we’d all go off and work on other projects. Several of us took what we learned from the road and applied it to songs and skits that were a part of the 2009 revival of The Electric Company on PBS. Careers in music, television, film and theater took us in all different directions. We even did a TV show called “Freestyle Love Supreme” in 2014 (you can watch it, it’s on iTunes!). You’ve seen members of Freestyle Love Supreme in movies, on TV, and on Broadway. But we still keep coming back to perform together as Freestyle Love Supreme, because there’s nothing quite like it.
We returned to the stage earlier this year, when we cut the ribbon on Ars Nova’s new downtown Off-Broadway home at the Greenwich House Theater. We had an incredible 5-week run. Now we are approaching a 16-week run limited engagement run on Broadway at the phenomenal Booth Theatre.
And I’ll always come back to FLS for as much time as I can, whenever I can. I hope I get the chance to perform with this group for decades to come. It’s always challenging. It’s always rewarding. It’s always hilarious. I’m so proud of the deep bench of performers who has joined our ranks over the years. Everyone has achieved great success in their individual careers, but Freestyle Love Supreme remains special to us all. And it exists because we were having fun and Anthony said, “we should do this in front of people.” So here we go. I hope we see you there.
Siempre,
Lin-Manuel Miranda

Feature: Lin-Manuel Miranda on Departures

[ Written on September 01 2019 by Francesca ]

Lin-Manuel Miranda is on the cover of Departures, on the September issue dedicated to the 30th annyversary of the magazine.

Check the cover and the photoshoot in our Gallery and read the interview below.

Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to be perpetually in motion. To wit, on a Monday afternoon in late May, I found him taking a short break from rehearsals for the film version of his first musical, In the Heights, which was shooting on location in Manhattan. He was also celebrating the finale of the FX miniseries he executive-produced, Fosse/Verdon, and prepping for a Broadway run this fall of Freestyle Love Supreme, the improv hip-hop collective he’s been a part of since 2004. And then there’s the movie musical he’s planning to direct, an adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom!, and Vivo, the animated film he’s collaborating on with his In the Heights cowriter, Quiara Alegría Hudes.
But we were sitting down mostly to talk about his activism and philanthropy. Among the causes for which he has put his charisma and celebrity to work: Puerto Rico’s efforts to recover from Hurricane Maria, for which he has raised, with the help of American Express, more than $43 million for Hispanic Federation UNIDOS in addition to more than $14 million for Flamboyan Arts Fund.
March for Our Lives, the group against gun violence started by survivors of the Parkland massacre, and voter registration. Here’s how he explains his role as an entertainer and awareness-raiser.

QUESTION: To put it mildly, you have a lot on your plate. How do you keep your public roles as artist and activist in some kind of balance?

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Balance is the thing you think about all the time. And that includes being a good dad, and taking my kid to school, and having time to sleep. I mean, I feel like we’re all balancing those things all the time. Like how do we get the time for the thing we really are passionate about doing, and balance that with things you have to do? How do you log the time with your family so that everyone’s good and in touch? And then there are the things that I feel like would fall under the category of “activism.” It comes from the same feeling as a creative impulse. It’s the thing that doesn’t leave you alone. That question of, Can I be of service here?

Q:What’s on your mind right now, aside from the ongoing issues you’re involved with?

LMM: The 2020 election is on my mind. I don’t have a candidate picked out yet. I think that will sort itself out, but voter registration is something that I’ve leaned into, even before anyone knew who I was. I think particularly when our issues are on the table as they are, for Latinx people, whether it’s immigration, whether it’s Puerto Rico, we have to come out and vote and be heard.

Q: Do you see yourself endorsing or full-throatedly campaigning for a candidate?

LMM: Yeah, probably. Someone who is criticizing me would say, “You’re an actor, you’re a writer—who cares?” Well, yeah, but I would have endorsed someone and I would have worked on their behalf before I had written Hamilton. So I’m just doing the stuff I would have done anyway. But when people say “stick to writing,” or “stick to acting,” or whatever it is they want you to stick to because it agrees with their thing—I would love to! I would love nothing more than to curl up in a ball and just write things, but our work exists in the world and our work exists in conversation with the world. So, we have to talk about the world as we see it.

Q: How much did your childhood affect your approach to activism, growing up with a father, Luis A. Miranda Jr., who worked in New York City government and is now a political consultant?

LMM: My dad, in many ways, functions as my Jiminy Cricket in terms of when I can be helpful in causes that are bigger than entertainment. I mean, we grew up in a political household. I remember registering people to vote when I was a kid. I would get sent to the Dyckman projects on 10th Avenue and go from one building to the next, from the top all the way down, with the green forms.

Q: What’s it like returning to In the Heights? Are you updating the script?

LMM: I mean, there are things that were implicit then that are explicit now, like the way this wave of Latinx immigrants has to fight for their personhood. In this world, we are more demonized than we have ever been. This notion of, “We came from somewhere else and we’re trying to make the best of our lives here. We are just like you”—this, somehow, is a radical statement in 2019. It shouldn’t be. It didn’t feel that radical in 2008 [when In the Heights opened on Broadway], but it actually is, because there are so many who would say, “You don’t belong here. This country’s full.” To see these characters joyously waving the flags of their home countries in New York City, it’s crazy that that’s a radical act. But it’s wonderful to put that on screen.

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