Three years on from his award-winning stint as part of the original West End cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, Giles Terera has released his account of his time in the show. Hamilton and Me is made up of a collection of journal entries that Terera kept as he prepared to reveal his Aaron Burr to London audiences; it charts his introduction to the Broadway show, the audition process, the rehearsal period, and performances leading up to (& including) opening night. The result is a smart blend of memoir and vital insight into what performers go through to get a show on the road. The fact that it was written at the time this was all taking place, and with no thought then of publishing, means there is an immediacy and honesty to the text that you might not ordinarily expect – Terera’s openness and willingness to share these thoughts with the world is incredibly inspiring.
Giles Terera’s turn as A. Burr was the kind that made you immediately sit up and take notice, the kind that put you in no doubt as to who would be winning the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical the following year. Being able to look back now at the work, thought & emotion he ploughed into his preparation for the role makes the praise & plaudits all the more worthy, knowing that no stone (however small) was left unturned.
For the HamFans out there, this book is a great way to gen up on some lesser known details about Aaron Burr (Terera has done the research so you don’t have to), and also contains some great analysis of the show, its characters & Miranda’s writing. Things you wouldn’t necessarily notice when watching the show or listening to the cast recording, such as the subtle shift in Hamilton’s interactions with Burr, the plethora of ‘What if?’ moments that set Burr down this tragic path, and the parallels between Hamilton & various works of Shakespeare (most notably Hamlet).
There are also plenty of terrific tips to pick up on if you are heading into the theatre business, or if you’re just curious as to how it all works. Reading about the time it typically takes to rehearse a show before getting to the theatre for tech is a real eye-opener: it almost doesn’t seem possible that it can be done that quickly! Though I’m sure it doesn’t feel quick when you’re testing your vocal cords & energy reserves to the limit day after day. Everything Terera says is invaluable advice for the aspiring actor; one story that stands out is a moment in tech where he has to work out how to get up the staircase backwards whilst singing. That he accepts the offer of time to try it out is a reminder that it does no one any favours if you put your pride ahead of doing what’s best for you & the show – it might seem like you’re slowing things up, but in the long run it will work out better for everyone.
For someone like me, who isn’t an actor, it’s fascinating to read about the kind of research people do and how they immerse themselves in a role; it always strikes me as the part of the preparation I’d be most interested in, as it’s a great excuse to read as much as you can and go off on unexpected tangents depending on what you discover. There wasn’t a wealth of information about Burr available to Terera in terms of books, but that didn’t stop him from finding little nuggets to delve into – stumbling upon the street where Burr stayed in the aftermath of his duel with Hamilton, for one. Reading his thoughts on how to tell Burr’s story, and how to get to the bottom of this elusive figure, you can see the connection growing between actor & character; on contemplating Burr’s motivations in his early years, Terera has an epiphany and finds that he is able to think like him.
In short, this book is an absolute delight. Illuminating about both the craft of acting and the glorious show that is Hamilton, it takes you on a whirlwind journey through what was clearly an incredibly important period in Giles Terera’s life. Thoroughly recommended for anyone with an interest in acting, Hamilton, or just theatre in general.
Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal is available in hardback and electronic formats (published by Nick Hern Books). The online launch event will take place at 8.30pm on Thursday 1 July 2021. For further insights, listen to the Hamilton and Us podcast.