Tag Archives: Hamilton

Theater On A Screen

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to see Hamilton back in 2015 when it first made the move to Broadway. This was well before the soundtrack was released, but after its run at the Public. I was a TA for a summer film program and part of the thing was for the students to go see shows. They needed volunteers and, as someone trained since childhood to never turn down an opportunity to get some culture, I volunteered to go see this history musical called Hamilton (a friend of mine was also very insistent on me volunteering when he’d heard which play it was).

The play was dope. Yes, it plays fast and loose with history and, yes, glosses over historical issues of racism and slavery (like basically every other recounting of the founding of the US), but, arguably, that’s not the point. The genius of Hamilton is how it reinterprets a very familiar story: rather than the tried-and-true story of white dudes in fancy outfits, we’ve a cast almost entirely consisting of people-of-color telling the story with songs that borrow more from hip-hop and rap than Sondheim. The result is a story that feels incredibly fresh and fun, while also making a biography of Alexander Hamilton accessible and, somehow, badass. In addition, it’s an ode to the idea of America, more so than the actuality, an idealism that there was room for in 2015.

Naturally, I wanted to watch it again, and wanted to be able to watch it with some friends so I could talk to them about it and dig into it, but Hamilton tickets cost money and need to be purchased well in advanced, stuff that, as a college student, wasn’t really on the table. It’s frustrating, because Hamilton, a musical about being young, scrappy, and hungry, is effectively out of reach for the young, scrappy, and hungry. Even now, it’s hard for me to set aside $100 for an event months away.

So of course I’m super excited that the recording of Hamilton from 2016 is finally available to watch online. It means I can finally recommend it to people without the financial subtext. It means my parents and friends all over can watch it and we can all talk about it and get into it. Finally.

Perhaps the bigger issue is that the majority of plays and musical is out of reach unless you’re moneyed and living in New York. Most all of the theatre I’ve been to has been through rushing for discount tickets or having a friend with connections. Fun Home is a terrific show, but one I was only able to see because a friend won the ticket lottery and gave me his spot. The only reason I saw Vietgone is because they offered discount tickets for those under thirty. Both of these shows are fantastic and ones I wish I could share with friends the same way I do a good book or movie. Sure, I have the script for Vietgone, but letting a friend read it isn’t quite the same as getting to watch it.

I will admit that some is lost in the transfer from stage to screen; much of what makes theater work is the shared liminal space that contributes to the effect of the story (my experience watching Fun Home wouldn’t quite work on screen), in the same way that a video play-through of a video game lacks the experiential quality a good game has.

There’s a larger point to be made about the experiential nature of stories (once again, theater and video games are, oddly, very alike in this), but that’s for another day. At the moment, though, a little piece of pop-culture just got a whole lot more accessible. And that’s a good thing.

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Bang For A Buck

Movie tickets here in New York short you around $15 a pop. Which is a lot for a movie, but we go anyway because, y’know, movies. So it’s worth it, price of admission and all that for those two hours.

Conversely, your typical new video game costs $60 at base, ignoring deluxe editions, special editions, and inevitable DLC. Which makes it come up to around a lot; Star Wars Battlefront totals out $110 if you buy the bundle for all the expansions, which I haven’t though I really enjoy the game and would appreciate the depth those expansions offer. $50 seems too steep, y’know?

The same goes for Destiny‘s newest expansion, Rise of Iron; it’s a hearty forty quid and even though I’ve already bought all the other expansions, I’m not quite ready to invest more cash. I don’t know if it’s worth it.

Then I check my playtime in the game. I’ve invested over 210 hours into Destiny. Woah (I didn’t check the number until just now). For how much I’ve paid, that’s better than 2 hours for each dollar I’ve spent. Or, in perspective, $1,575 worth of movie tickets. By that metric, Destiny has so far proven almost $1,500 cheaper. So picking up Rise of Iron seems like a steal.

So that’s it then; entertaining-hour per dollar is the way of measuring whether something is a good deal. Buy more games, go to the cinema less often. Easy.

But what about theatre?

Plays don’t come cheap, Full-price tickets for Hamilton will short you around a $100 (roughly Battlefront+expansions, if you’re keeping track) for a single viewing of a two-and-a-half hour musical. Discounted tickets to shows like Fun Home and Vietgone, plays I’ve raved about, are $30 a piece. If we go back to our entertaining-hour per dollar metric, then plays are crazy expensive, far more than a movie and definitely a video game.

That is, of course, if you take things at a mathematical face value.

Was Fun Home worth those thirty dollars? Holy crap, yes. Seeing something live has a different aura than watching something on a screen. With a play, I figure you’re not paying your money for the story, but to have an experience. Hamilton tickets fetch such a high price because  it’s such an experience to watch it live. Similarly, the wonder of watching Fun Home done in the round, with the stage playing the role it does and being in a room full of other people is part of the ticket. And my own experience of Vietgone wouldn’t be the same without a particularly great piece of live feedback from an elderly woman during the introduction.

The whole entertaining-hour per dollar metric really falls apart as soon as you realize that entertainment isn’t just a blanket term. Of the over two-hundred hours I’ve spent playing Destiny, I can point to the experience of spending six hours venturing into the Vault of Glass with a six-person fireteam of strangers online and beating Atheon as being a highlight worth my purchase. That was an experience, of retries, strategizing, and, eventually, victory. It’s hard to capture that lightning in a bottle again, and that might be why I”m holding off on Rise of Iron.

When I buy a game, I’m after an experience. I want to be thrilled by Uncharted 4 or haunted by The Last of Us; if I get that, the money was worth it. Same goes for the stage; I want to see something that I could only have seen on stage, something made special by how and where it’s done. I’ll shell out a hundred bucks on a LEGO set because I love the process of putting it together (with a record playing and a nice glass of whiskey).

It’s why when Rogue One tickets go on sale I’m spending the extra money to see it in IMAX 3D: I want the experience, I wanna be there. And at the end of the day, that’s what you’re really paying for.

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