By Ariana Albarella
Students and community members gathered in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater to welcome Broadway performer Christopher Jackson on Oct. 19.
Currently performing as George Washington in Hamilton on Broadway, Jackson shared insight, answered audience questions and performed three songs during the event.
Throughout his career, Jackson has been involved with many theatrical productions, including originating roles in the shows In the Heights and Hamilton, both created by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“I absolutely enjoy originating roles and being the first person to take a crack at it,” Jackson said. “In the case of Lin, we met very early on in his career and it’s always interesting and exciting to have a writer of any sort, but especially of Lin’s caliber, to allow you to influence the kind of role that you’re doing. Lin is obviously a very talented guy and he has used every brush that I have in my bucket to help paint the pictures that he wants to create.”
Jackson’s artistic endeavors only begin with his theatrical credits. He is also a lyricist and composer, writing for several projects including Sesame Street. He spends much of his time immersing himself into the various facets of his craft.
“I didn’t come to study and get into the business to just do one thing,” Jackson said. “If you want to be an artist, you have to stay busy. You have to be busy creating, you have to be busy reading, you have to be busy exploring your art using any mediums possible.”
Allowing himself to experience different aspects of his field has brought him more than just success. Jackson shared with the audience that during a chemistry read for In the Heights, he met his wife, Veronica Vasquez-Jackson. He later brought her out to sing a duet from the show that united them together.
This moment was one of many that captivated the crowd. Audience members took turns asking Jackson questions, many pertaining to his current role.
Since opening in August, Hamilton has captured the attention of the Broadway community and beyond, with some referring to it as a game-changing show for theater. The show, dubbed “An American Musical,” delves into the life of Alexander Hamilton and focuses on his contributions to the nation. Jackson portrays a Washington that is all too aware of the lasting impact he and the country’s other founders will have on history.
“The idea of the possible, I think, is Hamilton’s greatest strength,” Jackson told the crowd. “When I think about being a part of something like Hamilton or In the Heights or any of the shows that I’ve been a part of, it’s always about the power of possibility and how that can truly and greatly affect change in our world. And if I can be a small part of that, then I feel like my story is told through the lives of people who have been affected by what I do.”
While Jackson is excited that so many want to come to a show with so much diversity, he responds to the “game-changer” ideology that surrounds the show with We’ll see,” echoing his character’s sentiment and allowing history to decide the fate of the musical.
“Our show looks like what a New York City subway car looks like,” he said. “It’s really interesting. Throughout the course of my career, I’ve had the good fortune of being in some highly influential shows that featured people of color. It’s nice to see that Hamilton is adding to the list of shows that could be hugely successful and not all white. It’s nice that the characters in our story are rich. The female characters are so developed and strong. The women in our show are not the exception, they’re the rulers: in terms of their strength, in terms of their resilience, in terms of their influence. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Though playing the first president is no easy feat, Jackson embraces the challenge and discussed how important it is to be an embodiment of change and inspiration.
“Theater, at its best, affects change because it inspires thought, and so when you walk out of the theater, you feel something or you heard a line, you heard ‘History Has Its Eyes On You,’” Jackson said. “You don’t have to be the president to wonder when you walk out of this door, like generations before all of us when they walked outside of a place of learning or theater, ‘What am I doing with my life? How can I take my soul and my ideas and my inspiration and use that to affect change?’”
Making a difference through the arts is a notion that Jackson discussed throughout the night. In Hamilton, the line “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” is a prominent component of the show’s plot, and is often sung by Jackson. To him, it is a statement meant to inspire change not just in the context of the show, but also in everyday life.
“To be able to say that to 1,300 people, eight times a week is no small thing,” Jackson said. “I hope that when people come to see our show and they walk away from the experience and carry it with them, that they can examine that in their own lives and how they interact as citizens and what change they choose to affect. It speaks to how important it is to be mindful of that. Not to be in search of fame and glory, but simply to make a lasting impression.”
Printed in the 10/21/15 edition.