For Bryan Terrell Clark, who played George Washington in Hamilton on Broadway, this was a first.
Never before had he spoken to nearly 1,000 students ranging in age from five to 18. But at Colorado Academy, in a gym filled with students from Kindergarten through Upper School Seniors, Clark quickly proved himself to be a performer who both could raise the roof and bring down the house.
“Doing Hamilton was life-changing,” he told the students. “How do you get into a show like Hamilton? You have to be brave and you have to come forward and be yourself.”
Over the course of the next hour, Clark encouraged students to do just that—come forward. Delighted by Clark’s charismatic personality, Lower School students danced, Middle School students sang and performed rap (Tupac, no less), and Upper School students shared their passions—including a spoken-word original poem delivered by Senior Quinn Taylor which was met with thunderous applause. When one student had a moment of stage fright, Clark had just the right encouragement.
“All human beings experience fear,” he said. “Success is on the other side of what you are afraid of.”
Follow your passion
Throughout the hour, Clark shared his own story—one of a young boy who was performing before he could even talk. Raised by a mother with extremely high standards and a father with no standards, Clark described himself as Middle School student who “checked out and went silent” until his talent for singing emerged in a gospel choir. Attending a performing arts high school “changed his life.” A straight-A student, he graduated from Temple University, but was discouraged from pursuing his dream of attending a top-tier performing arts graduate program because he was African American.
“Follow your passion,” he told the students. “Do what you love.” He did, graduating from Yale School of Drama.
Today, he says his father has become one of his best friends. “I always say my mom was an angel and my dad was a dragon,” he told the students. “And they both taught me to fly.”
He also reminded the students that failure often precedes success. He auditioned for Hamilton seven times before he was cast. “Rejection is direction,” he said. “It means not right now, not this way.” But it doesn’t mean you should quit.
“You are brilliant and there is no other you on the planet,” he told the students. “You have been given the passion which is the fuel to lead to your purpose.”
After the assembly, Bryan headed into a two-hour Master Class in the Schotters Music Center to work with CA’s Upper School students on both singing and acting techniques, pulling apart each line of a song, having students interpret, explain, and attach specific meaning to every word they sang.
He had students recite lyrics, without music, uncovering nuances and deeper meaning and teaching students how to convey that meaning through their performance. He challenged students to sing to a classmate whose back was turned, making the performance so compelling that their classmate would have to turn around. “As a performer,” he told the students, “You can stop thinking about the singing; we know you can sing.” The class, serving as the audience, was engrossed in watching the techniques, and then the improvements, unfold before them.
CA Vocal Music Director Dr. Kevin Padworski said, “Bryan brought a wealth of awesome energy to CA today. It was particularly powerful seeing him work with Upper School students in a Master Class setting and demonstrating the beautiful balance and mastery of both technique and unbridled passion. He helped evoke the very best from them, and certainly sparked the next steps in their journeys as artists, continuing to hone their craft.”