SparkNotes Blog

Everything We Learned at a Q&A With Lin-Manuel Miranda Was Beyond Our Wildest Dreams

When my neighbor told me Lin-Manuel Miranda was coming to a private middle school near our town in New Jersey to give a talk that was FREE TO THE PUBLIC, my first thought was, Why in god’s name???????

Until I saw:


Ah. Some lucky nephew you’ve got there, Lin.

I got there a fashionably early hour before the event, but there were already hundreds of people lined up, and because of the predictable mass turnout, we poor souls in the back of the line were stuffed into the overflow cafeteria to watch the Q&A on a projector screen.

But Lin is LIN, so he did us a solid and entered/exited the stage through said cafeteria (“I see you, cafeteria people!”), waving and smiling and freaking out with us as he made his way through. The picture above was taken by my good friend Molly’s good friend, Sammy, both of whom could probably recite the soundtrack backwards.

THE THINGS WE LEARNED THAT NIGHT, SPARKLERS. I really don’t know if they’re anywhere else on the internet.

Disclaimer: Most of this is paraphrased because I can only write about seven wpm using a writing utensil and notebook.

On high school and theater geekdom:

He wrote his first play in ninth grade called “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” which was a twenty-minute musical about his first unchaperoned party in seventh grade.

Theater kept his grades up. If you’re passionate about something in high school, he said, you will have incentive to be a better student. He needed to those grades to be able to stay in the theater club.

He figured out who he was because of school plays. “It’s the best way to make the most out of high school because you can make friends in different grades,” he said. If his ninth grade friends were wrapped up in some friend drama, he’d just head over to his senior friends to avoid it.

On himself:

He mastered freestyling at 5 A.M. on a road trip to Las Vegas. When he was going to college at Wesleyan in Connecticut, he and his friends decided to drive to Vegas and back in ONE WEEK. (Their friends said “THEY’RE NEVER COMING BACK.”) Lin had the 1-5 A.M. shift driving through Kansas, and while everyone else in the car was asleep, he cracked open a Redbull, popped in a mixtape, and started quietly freestyling/talking to himself. Mostly about how boring Kansas was. When everyone woke up in the morning he stepped away from the wheel a NEW MAN.

He danced at Bar Mitzvahs to make the rent. One of them was a Carnivale-themed party in Long Island, so they all had masks on (“masks take away your humanity”), and he was getting groped by old women. “I left my dignity in Long Island. I have no shame now.”

And then, in a moment of brutal honesty, Lin was like, listen up guys: “You will not make the rent by being an artist.” You need massive amounts of luck to get where he is, so his advice was to figure out a job that will pay the rent so that you can pursue the art you love to do. He had a good gig teaching high school English for a while and loved it, but when he realized he needed to buckle down and WRITE, he stopped teaching. “If art is calling you, then do it.”

His favorite Federalist paper is the first one“Trust me, I’ve read them all.”

On writing Hamilton:

Stephen Sondheim FREAKED OUT when Lin told him about his idea for HamiltonWhile they were working together on translations for West Side Story, Stephen asked Lin what he was planning next. When he told him about his Hamilton idea, Stephen, a usually reserved guy, THREW HIS HEAD BACK and told him it was the most incredible idea he’d ever heard. Lin was like, O_o

From the moment he read the name “Hercules Mulligan,” he pictured Busta Rhymes. He NEVER pictured the original founding fathers when he was reading Ron Chernow’s book. The cast is made up primarily of people of color, so the play looks like the makeup of our country now in period clothes. People will see the show and automatically be able to relate and empathize.

Also, the only way producers will include more people of color in casts, he said, is if these shows and movies do well, so FOUR FOR YOU, LIN-MANUEL.

They cut out a rap about John Adams from the musical, which was incidentally “THE BEST RAP [LIN] EVER WROTE.” A;LSKDFA;LDKJ;ALSDKFJS;DFJ. The reason it couldn’t stay was because “We love Les Mis but we didn’t want Hamilton to be longer,” and the John Adams rap just wasn’t necessary. WASN’T NECESSARY? 🙁 I would give my last pair of breeches to be able to hear those sixteen bars.

The one thing he wishes he could’ve included in Hamilton was about Benedict Arnold’s topless wife. Appaaarently, Alexander Hamilton and G.W. found out about his whole plot to betray the Patriots and knocked on the door of his house. His wife answered, topless, child in her arms, running and around and freaking out about something incoherent. Didn’t matter that SHE was the one who pretty much orchestrated her husband’s scheme—Hams and Washington were so cross-eyed by her lack of a shirt that they just kind of… left. (This would’ve set up the Reynolds Affair very well.)

Side note: Lin said that Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler “comma sexted” in their letters to each other (used punctuation to send secret messages). Chew on that.

He swears that history and hip hop go hand in hand because they both require so much DETAIL (and in his opinion, hip hop and musical theater are the two best formats of storytelling).

On THE SHOW:

The most relaxing part of his day is performing. The rest is spent going to the gym, spending time with his family, stressing about zillions of unopened emails, and tweeting. A lot. But when the show starts, ALL he has to do is be Alex for three hours.

His pre-show routine: “I eat.” He gets there three hours early so he can eat and digest before the show, because “you cannot digest and play Alexander Hamilton at the same time, trust me.”

OTHER EXTREMELY IMPORTANT RITUAL: “I hang out with Groff. I show him things on the internet, because he doesn’t understand social media.” FOR THE LOVE OF TRICORN HATS. BE STILL, MY BEATING HEART.

Madonna was on the phone during the show. The moderator asked, “How do you feel about people as different as Dick Cheney and Madonna both loving the show?” His response: “I don’t know how much she loved it; she was on the phone. *winces*” :/

But he did go on to say that the story has something for everyone. Republicans, democrats, extraterrestrials—everyone. “And that art allows us to walk a mile in shoes we would’ve never walked in otherwise.

Empathy is the only thing that makes change real.”

^I WROTE DOWN THAT WHOLE QUOTE. IT IS VERBATIM.

If there’s one thing to take away, it’s that immigrants get the job done. There will very sadly always be immigrants pegged as the “villains du jour,” he said, but if you watch what Marquis de Lafayette and Hamilton did to immigrate to America and what they accomplished when they got here… the message is clear.

AND THEN HE ANSWERED OUR SPAKRLIFE-APPROVED QUESTION I WROTE DOWN ON A FLIMSY 3X5 NOTECARD. The moderator asked, “What would you go back to tell your high-school self?” Lin looked pained. “This is a very hard question. Good one,” he said. HE SAID THAT. And after a ten-second pause, he said he would’ve told himself to relax. That the problem in high school was that he took himself too seriously—he was a lot to deal with (“Think of your annoying theater friend times ten.”) and worried a lot when a friend didn’t show up to something, because “friendship was [his] only leverage.” “I would’ve said that it’s gonna be okay.”

The moderator took over and said that he was going to stop there because he had a few more questions from the audience, but that “they’re a little more personal.” Then Lin DID THIS THING AND THEN WINKED, and everyone was like ?!?!??!!!!!!

It was magical. And we learned SO MUCH. And if you, reader, are ever stuck in an elevator with Lin-Manuel, please tell him that there’s a weird girl at SparkLife who would give her last pair of breeches to be able to hear the long lost John Adams rap.

Did you just learn EVERYTHING you’ll ever need to know about Lin’s life?!