The Pyramid in Practice – “Read”-ability in Hamilton

This post looks at another example of how the Imagineering Pyramid principles are practiced “beyond the berm” – specifically the use of “Read”-ability in Hamilton: An American Musical.

Let’s start with a refresher on “Read”-ability, described on pages 79-80 in The Imagineering Pyramid:

“Read”-ability is the practice of simplifying complex subjects. Whenever you need to communicate complex (or even not-that-complex) ideas, you should look for ways in which you can simplify your message to help your audience quickly and easily understand what you’re trying to tell them.

…It’s about making ideas easily understandable, which in turn makes them quickly understandable. Even in circumstances when you’re not constrained by time, it’s still a good idea to consider how to help your audience understand your subject matter.

The “Read”-ability chapter of The Imagineering Pyramid looks at a few specific tools to help with “read”-ability, including illustrations, examples, and metaphors. Another useful approach to communicating ideas is to use demonstrations in which you somehow depict the idea you’re trying to explain.

Demonstration is an important tool in storytelling, as it allows the storyteller a way to show their audience that a particular character has a particular skill or ability. Rather than simply telling the audience about a character, demonstrations allow the audience to see the character in action first-hand. For example, in the film The Wizard of Oz, the first appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West has her appearing and disappearing in clouds of smoke. This quickly communicates the witch’s magical power to the audience. We don’t need to be told that she’s a powerful witch. Her actions demonstrate that for us.

Hamilton-The-Revolution

But while physical or magical abilities can often be demonstrated visually, intellectual abilities are more challenging to demonstrate. One of the essays in Hamilton: The Revolution describes an example of this type of challenge, in which Lin-Manuel Miranda is faced with how to demonstrate Alexander Hamilton’s quick wit:

He … needed to depict the fiery brilliance of the young Alexander Hamilton. We’re going to demonstrate that he fights in the war, but how do we demonstrate that he’s quick-witted and fighting a war of ideas?”

(from Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, page 47)

How do you demonstrate a character’s “fiery brilliance” to your audience? How do you make a character’s skill with writing “read”-able?

The solution Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with to meet this challenge was the song “Farmer Refuted“, based on a pair of pamphlets that Hamilton published in 1775 to combat the pro-England efforts of Samuel Seabury, a leading loyalist of the time. You can find the song’s lyrics and listen to it here.

This song serves to make Hamiton’s intellect “read”-able to audiences. The song employs melodic counterpoints, lyrical counterpoints, and clever sound and word play to effectively demonstrate for the audience that Hamilton is quick-witted, is more than an intellectual match for Seabury, and fights the revolution as much with his wits as he does with weapons.

Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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