by Erin Clemons
In my last week at Hamilton, I got to play all three of the sisters: Peggy/Maria, Eliza, and then Angelica, which was the exact opposite way I had learned them. It was the perfect way to wrap up my swift and thrilling year at Hamilton.
I only auditioned for Hamilton three times in the course of a year and a half. It was a very brief audition process. I was on tour with Beautiful when I found out I had booked the show. I would be covering the three sisters and be in the ensemble every night. I had to put in my notice right away, and I joined Hamilton four weeks later.
Going into the show, I mostly knew the material from seeing the show and working on the audition. However, learning the show in its entirety was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. You finally get to work on this material that you’ve been fangirling over for over a year. It takes a while to absorb it all. The words (and the stairs for Woman 5) are a brilliant and overwhelming feat. I learned and went on for my ensemble track, Angelica, and Eliza within three months of joining the show, saving Peggy/Maria for last a few months later. It was an exciting moment to finally finishing learning all of the show.
The team at Hamilton are so lovely and accommodating, and I absolutely love my cast mates. Nevertheless, sometimes you feel it in your bones when it’s time to leave and that was quite literally what happened to me. Throughout my time at the show, I started to have a lot of problems with my ribs and shoulder from the corsets that we wear. Although the show took great care of us, I think your body manifests what your mind already knows. For me, that was that I was ready to move on.
I have been understudying in shows for about six years now. Although I have learned so much from all those processes and it has been rewarding to learn all of that material, it started to weigh on me. Understudies and ensemble members have to spend a lot of time in rehearsals outside of the show, not leaving a lot of time for leisure or other artistic endeavors. And when you are at the show or getting ready for the day, you’re always wondering who will be out, especially if you cover more than one role. When you add that to an 8-show week, it becomes, at least for me, a pace that is unmaintainable for years at a time.
The body and the mind need rest, but they also need challenge. When you’re understudying, there isn’t ample rehearsal time. Especially when you’re covering more than one character, you’re often more concerned with remembering where you stand, what you say or sing and who to rather than being able to really craft a character.
I think as we grow older our dreams and goals morph. You start to really take hold of what you want out of life and your career. There is value in paying your dues and learning from great actors and teachers, but there is also value in knowing when it’s time to own what you bring to the table as well. For me, my new dream is to be able to work on roles of my own, getting the chance to know and rehearse material well enough to bring nuance and depth to the character I play.
It goes without saying that Hamilton is a brilliant show. Anyone who gets the chance to work on it should consider him or herself lucky to be a part of the genius that is that creative team. It’s a rare and beautiful phenomenon I will always be proud to have been a part of. When Eliza took her last breath at the end of my last show, I couldn’t help but cry for the hours of work and sweat and love and sacrifice that I, and everyone on that stage and backstage has given to make the show what it is and continues to be. A true blessing.