When director Thomas Kail first arrived at Vassar College’s campus to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda on the first act of what was then known as The Hamilton Mixtape, Miranda answered the door all bandaged up.
“He was like, ‘I brought my skateboard, and I rode it down the hill,’” laughs Kail. “The dude was on a skateboard, and just seeing him standing there, knowing there was a moment of like, ‘I might have broken the rules, but I’m okay.’” It’s that lawlessness that allowed Miranda (along with Kail) to create something brand new in theatre, the new shot heard round the world: Hamilton.
That trip to Vassar was for an eight-day working period at New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater. The non-profit theatre company dedicates its resources to the development of new work in the upstate New York oasis (“There’s literally nothing else to do there,” says Kail) before an audience of educated theatregoers, sans critics and reviews.
“I knew that we could go there and create whatever environment we needed to suit what the show was requiring at that moment,” says Kail.
Not to mention, Kail could capitalize on the natural ebb and flow of creativity since he was living with his collaborators. “I was living in a room with Alex Lacamoire and Miranda for eight straight days, and the reality is that if you spend that much time together… Lin’s like skateboarding down the hallway as we were yelling things to him. And you wake up in the morning, and you’re having breakfast and something might spark. And just by having that kind of proximity,” Kail pauses. “When you live in the city, you’re dealing with your life, and then you go [to Vassar] and there’s that quiet and that focus that you need to actually have true interaction multiple times a day without the pressure of ‘We’re selling tickets’ or ‘We have to stage the show.’ It was really just about concentrating on the work.” (It also sounds like the best extended sleepover party ever.)
Still, it also has to do with the trio in the room. “My camaraderie and friendship with those three in particular is not distinct from the work we do,” says Kail. “I think that one of the beautiful things about theatre—and a place like Powerhouse—is that who you are is informing your work. There’s actually no separation from that.”
“I think that we all just appreciate the skillset and the humanity that the other will bring into the room,” he says. “What it’s all sort of laying on top of is this foundation of incredible faith and trust in each other. No one here is trying to do anything except evolve the idea and to inspire the other person. And so when we’re together, we know that we’re just interested in finding the best idea and trying to bring that to the surface and see where that takes us.”
So far it’s taken the team to a Grammy Award, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations—not to mention nearly unprecedented fame for Miranda and his co-stars in mainstream media.
As for this weekend’s awards, Kail appears content, yet unconcerned. “The lovely thing about all this is that I keep on getting to go to the Richard Rodgers both before and after Sunday. And that this is going to be a chance to celebrate the entire community,” he says, “and then go back to work.”