What’s My Deal With All The “Hamilton” Videos?

December 21st, 2015 § 2 comments

Brian D’Arcy James, Andrew Rannells and Jonathan Groff perform at Ham4Ham

Brian D’Arcy James, Andrew Rannells and Jonathan Groff perform at Ham4Ham

If you’re a dedicated fan of the musical Hamilton, or if you follow me on social media, you may well have come across the streetside #Ham4Ham show videos I’ve been sharing since late July. As I write, they’ve collectively been viewed on YouTube about 890,000 times – and that doesn’t include views of the same videos that have been uploaded directly to Facebook. So without doing a careful count, I can truthfully say the videos have been seen over 1.1 million times.

As a result, I have been labeled a Hamilton “superfan” on social media, and I’ve been interviewed by a handful of media outlets. I’ve been credited as “Ham4Ham documenter” in Entertainment Weekly. I even get recognized by people in the crowd when I show up to record the shows. But I’ve also found that there’s a lot of curiosity and outright confusion about what I’m doing there, so I’ve decided to satisfy the questioners and settle any uncertainty by asking myself questions I’ve actually been asked about my continuing presence at the #Ham4Ham shows – and a few no one has asked.

Why do you do it?

I started recording the shows in late July, before there hadn’t been much press specifically about #Ham4Ham shows, because I thought it would make for a blog post at some point, and also be material for my weekly column in London’s The Stage newspaper. That said, both the blog post and Stage column mention ran in early August.

But it’s now December. Why are you still showing up?

During previews, #Ham4Ham shows were happening daily, sometimes even twice a day. In the final weeks of previews, I was trying to get there pretty consistently, in the hope of coming up with a few great videos. But once the regular run began and Ham4Ham dropped to twice or perhaps three times a week, I found it had become a habit and, being a creature of habit in many things, I just keep going.

How do you manage to get to every one?

I don’t. I’ve missed dozens. I didn’t go for the first two weeks, and I’ve had week-long trips to California and England, as well as assorted conflicts. Because I do in fact have to work, and have a personal life, I’m not there all the time.

So how many times have you been to #Ham4Ham shows?

I’ve seen 43 of them.

But there are only 42 videos online right now. Why are you holding out?

That’s because I screwed up the recording once, on Halloween. I managed to start recording and accidently hit stop, without realizing it, about halfway through. I felt like an idiot. Fortunately my friend Laura Heywood (aka BroadwayGirlNYC) was also there that day, so there’s still good video readily available.

Do you work for the show?

Absolutely not. I’m doing this entirely on my own. In fact, I’ve decided that if anyone connected with the show ever calls me and specifically asks me to record something, I’ll stop altogether. I am not part of the show’s marketing and communications plan. If I shoot a video, I know full well that they may use it, but so can anyone else.

Do you know what the performance is going to be before it happens?

The night before Thanksgiving, I did an interview with Lin-Manuel for Dramatics magazine (look for it in February or March) and he did tell me what he had planned for that weekend. Once Lin tweeted me to say that he wouldn’t be at the show but that there would be “a lot” of people performing. That turned out to be the Broadway Inspirational Voices. But other than those instances, I don’t know anything more than what anyone can learn from reading Lin’s Twitter feed.

How can we believe you?

If I knew what was going to happen, I would have been in a much better position when Alexander from the Big Apple Circus did his juggling act. The only reason that turned out reasonably OK is because of camera zoom.

What kind of equipment do you use?

My iPhone. That’s it. I have a really nice DSLR that shoots video, but I’ve never learned how to use the video function. So I’m going the simple route.

Why won’t you use an even better camera if you have one?

Maybe I’ll try to learn how it all works during the holiday break. But you have to understand, I’d been shooting #Ham4Ham videos for a couple of weeks before I realized I ought to figure out how to get them off of my phone. I’d never posted to YouTube prior to that. It took me even longer to discover how to upload HD video. But let’s hear it for the iPhone.

How many times have you won the lottery?

Never. I don’t usually enter. I’m there for the Ham4Ham show. I’ve only entered a couple of times, when I’ve had friends in tow.

But you have seen Hamilton, right?

I’ve seen it twice, once at The Public and once on Broadway. I’d enjoy seeing it again, no doubt. Maybe for my birthday (hint, hint). And my eldest niece is dying to see it, so maybe I can figure out taking her.

Do you have any advice for people who want to shoot their own videos at Ham4Ham?

Always shoot horizontally – vertical only looks good on your phone. Hold your phone or camera with two hands, to keep it steady – you’d be surprise how hard it is to hold steady for four or five minutes. Get there about 45-50 minutes ahead of time for a decent spot – but remember that people are shooed off the sidewalk, so plant your toes as close to the curb as possible. Don’t sing along, laugh hysterically, scream Daveed’s name excitedly, and so on, because you’ll likely shake your camera in the process and you will be the loudest thing on your video.

Are you doing this to build your social media profile?

I admit that I’d love it if more people learned about my advocacy work as a result of this, but my sense is that people are watching because of Hamilton and not many find their way to my actual work. Sigh.

Have you monetized your YouTube stream?

No. I don’t own the rights to anything in the videos – the performances, the song rights, etc. I shouldn’t even try to profit from them.

Do you hear much from fans?

I see a lot of people posting how happy the videos make them. The most frequent comments seem to be a variant of people either  “dying” or “dead” as a result of watching. I’d just like to say that I have an alibi, and no jury would convict me.

Do people say anything to you directly?

People have been unbelievably warm and appreciative in writing to me about my videos. It’s lovely.

But c’mon, why do you really keep doing this? You’ve ducked the main question.

When I wrote the blog post that was the reason I started, I wrote about the extraordinary generosity of Lin-Manuel in creating the Ham4Ham show, which is entirely his doing. It’s not part of the production’s marketing plan, and given how the show is selling, they hardly need more promotion. I’ve kept this up because I’m not a performer myself (anymore), but if Lin, the Hamilton company, and people from many other shows can be kind enough to offer this up, it seems the least I can do is to try to preserve these one-of-a-kind moments for posterity, and help them to be seen by more than just the crowd on 46th Street. This is my act of generosity, and I like to think that these videos will be watched for a long time to come. Just like Hamilton.

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Counting down my top five #Ham4Ham videos to date on YouTube (keeping in mind that these are just from those I’ve recorded, and other videos by various other people have even more views than some of these – plus views of direct uploads to Facebook aren’t counted):


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