BIG PINEY – The music could be heard through the propped doors at Big Piney Fine Arts Center. Following it meant recognizing the song, if you knew it, get louder and then a rousing applause.
Then the music started over again.
On the stage was stardom – a Broadway performer from a record-breaking 16-time Tony Award-nominated pop culture phenomenon – and happy Big Piney Middle School students surrounding.
Thayne Jasperson, a noted Broadway actor best known for his role in the hit Hamilton, came to Big Piney to host workshops for students of all ages.
Big Piney choir and music teacher Ellie Brown said most of the students were aware of Hamilton before Jasperson’s visit. The high school and middle school students knew the songs to some extent. The sixth graders had no idea. So they watched Hamilton the next day.
“It was cool to see them exposed to that level of singing and acting,” Brown said. “In case they had those talents and want to go that direction.”
Despite their lack of knowledge, Jasperson encouraged the sixth graders to get involved and try the different dances. He encouraged and celebrated all of those participating regardless of age, ability or enthusiasm.
Jasperson encouraged the guys to try because, as he reiterated, a guy can enjoy performing like that while still being masculine.
“Some are so talented and they needed to hear that,” Brown said. “They can be a singer if they want to. It was a fantastic message.”
As part of the workshops, he would first let students read songs from Hamilton’s script, letting them get acclimated to the rhythms and flows of the vocals. Dance moves and physical expressions were then added. He also led students every step of the way up to a choreographed sing-a-long to “My Shot,” a hit song from Hamilton. Students got to perform the same moves as the actors and sing accompanying the song playing over the speakers.
After the novelty of sharing a stage with stardom faded and the dust settled, Brown said she could still see a difference in the students. She said “direct changes” were spotted the next day. They had the confidence to be passionate about acting, singing or band without being worried about how they’re perceived.
Excitement also followed – at least as much as it can for the fourth quarter. Even with summer fever and senioritis among the ranks, Brown said there was a change in energy.
“Some of them are working a lot harder and sing out,” she said. “What I would say is the biggest event is some of the kids are more shy and don’t sing out, they’re saying ‘This is what I want to do.’”
Overall, it was an incredible experience that not a lot of students ever get – especially those in a community of the size of Big Piney and Marbleton, located in western Wyoming. And while it was only for a day, a Broadway superstar came to that stage in Big Piney to share his enthusiasm with students. And the kids were in the room where it happened.