Dylan Henderson was having some trouble with his motivation.
That isn’t a jab at his level of enthusiasm, by the way, because excitement was something that the young actor already had down cold.
The influx of young talent that had poured into the headquarters of Singing Onstage studios earlier that night had arrived preheated, typified by a type of giddy exuberance that in their younger days had probably been reserved for recess or the distant wail of an approaching ice cream truck.
No, Dylan was most definitely jazzed — pumped, primed, ready for action — but his line was still coming out flat.
To be fair, here he was, a boy of only 14 years old, trying to channel both one of this country’s most notorious founding fathers and the man who brought him to life on Broadway, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
It was a big speech, a rousing call to action — to revolution — and the moment that the character of Alexander Hamilton earns his spot on the production’s marquee.
And it was OK.
“It’s the evening before you’re going into battle,” Rich Biever reminded him.
The co-founder of Singing Onstage stepped in to help set the scene, building a context that his actor can draw from if necessary.
They run it again from the top — and it still sounds a little like Hamilton might as well be asking his rebelliously-minded bros if they want to catch the 7:15 p.m. over at the multiplex.
“You’re trying to get them as excited as you are,” Biever said.
A light turns on.
“Oh!,” Dylan said.
He launches straight into the speech again and this time it’s perfect, all fire, passion and inspiration — Alexander Hamilton as coach of the New York Giants.
The middle school teachers are very aware the kids who have done this come in with a nice set of skills.
An actual audience will never see this, of course. The wildly popular “Hamilton” is still making the dough rise on Broadway and performance rights seem unlikely to be available any time soon.
None of that precludes a group of interested youngsters from learning the lyrics and choreography, although Rich and Heidi Biever wouldn’t mind if they walked away with a little something extra.
Camp Hamilton ran from Monday to Friday, the brainchild of musical and performance training impresario Singing Onstage, which resides in an honest to goodness dance studio nestled against the Bievers’ house on Pugh Street in State College.
Through camps and classes, the couple teaches children the finer points of performing on stage using the backdrop of familiar Broadway stalwarts such as “Aladdin” or “Wicked.”
“The middle school teachers are very aware the kids who have done this come in with a nice set of skills,” Heidi Biever said.
It’s difficult to ignore the mechanical implications of that last word and almost impossible to overlook the mind-numbing nimbleness of tongue and limb necessary to execute “Hamilton” properly.
The show is blend of some of the more challenging elements of hip-hop and musical theater. If the physical demands don’t trip you up, there’s always a host of potential performance issues that can come through in a pinch.
By day two of the camp, the students had already incorporated a fair amount of rapping and dancing into their repertoires and while the collective timing of the group was still a work in progress, everybody more or less seemed to know what they were supposed to be doing or saying at any given moment.
This wasn’t a surprise to Rich Biever. “Hamilton” has been such a pervasive cultural phe
nomenon that there are probably thousands of unwitting understudies performing the words to “My Shot” in showers across America.
His utility really lies in crafting the mindset of an actor, encouraging the students to take the time to establish the backstories and point of view necessary to turn words on a page into something more fluid — the difference between presenting a book report and bringing it to life.
“Sometimes Rich will help me get a better idea of the character,” Dylan said.
Everybody loves an actor who can take direction.
In developing Dylan’s opening scene as Hamilton, Dylan and Rich Biever worked together to take stock of the situation that the founding father had found himself in: mainly a bar full of men that he wanted to inspire.
“They say these things with all of that behind it,” Rich Biever said.
It would be a lot for anyone to take on — even a group of kids who already ate, slept and breathed musical theater.
Sometimes Rich will help me get a better idea of the character.
Adelaide Eburne was the only student in the bunch who had had the privilege of seeing “Hamilton” performed on Broadway, a Christmas gift from grandparents who obviously knew exactly what to get for the girl who was named after a character in “Guys and Dolls.”
“I loved it. It was like the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Adelaide said.
As a seasoned veteran of Singing Onstage — and at the tender age of 10 years old — Adelaide can confidently say that learning the moves to “Hamilton” counts among the more ambitious projects that she has tackled.
“Now that I do this, everything else will seem easy,” Adelaide said.