Hamilton cast draws voter registration crowd




Cast members Roddy Kenedy, Morgan Marcell, and Tinairi Vazquez pose for a photograph at the Ham4Vote voter registration event outside the Richard Rogers Theater in midtown. Photo: Madison Darbyshire.

On October 1st, the line outside the Richard Rogers Theater on 46th Street, home of the hit Broadway show, “Hamilton,” wasn’t for people hoping to score tickets to the sold-out musical; it was to register to vote.

This was the second night of “Hamilton’s” ‘Ham4Vote’ registration event, a partnership with the local Hispanic Federation community action group, where members of the “Hamilton” cast volunteered to register voters between matinee and evening performances. Theater staff erected tables inside the side doorway as a sea of 1,300 buzzing audience members clutching cast recordings and rolled up playbills eased onto the street, and a tough-looking security guard called out, “No re-entry.”

The crowd that gathered to register ranged from 18-year-olds to veteran voters who have recently moved, to squealing fans hoping to get some face time with the show’s stars.

“I’m here because I’m obsessed with ‘Hamilton,’” said Ashlee Latimer, a 25-year-old from Tennessee who has never registered to vote. “I slept on being politically active in the past. But this election is different. I’ve never felt like I’d so legitimately have to leave the country,” if Trump won.

Others were motivated by convenience. Phillip Saunders, a longtime New Yorker who moved districts last month, and is not a fan of the musical, said, “I saw this in the papers. I’m on the way to the movies. The movie theater is just around the block.”

Nik Walker speaks with a registrant and signs her playbill from the show. Photo: Madison Darbyshire.

Some in the line came straight from the day’s performance and saw the registration as a way to kill two birds with one stone. Katie McGuire had not yet registered to vote because she was concerned her vote wouldn’t matter in this election. “I just stayed after the show because [my friend] saw the event,” she said. McGuire feels that the biggest challenge facing voters her age is finding the time to register. “It’s just a matter of getting it done. This is easy access—but it’s less likely that kids will register if they leave it for us to do it ourselves.”

“I don’t know where city hall is,” said first-time registrant, Hannah Ford, 18.

According to an August Census Bureau study, only 58 percent of those ages 18-24 are registered to vote. And a study by PEW Research Center reveals that only 46 percent of that age group voted in the 2012 election, the smallest percentage of any age bracket.

“There are so many people who have stood in line just to watch the [cast members] breathe,” said Fryda Guedes, a representative from the Hispanic Federation who attended the event. “As a community organization we don’t have that.” The Hispanic Federation works to support Latino communities and institutions through grants, educational initiatives, public policy advocacy, and partnerships with the private sector, according to its latest annual report. Its 2013 report, “Nueva York and Beyond,” says that 66 percent of Latino New Yorkers live in New York City, and 22 percent of the New York metropolitan region is Latino—a large group of eligible voters. But Guedes says that voter registration is usually difficult. “The excitement of this audience is not your normal; there is a lot of apathy.”

The Hispanic Federation trained the Hamilton cast to register voters from every state using the government forms, and assisted with answering questions at the event.

Gesturing to the single registration form in front of him, cast member Nik Walker, an ensemble member and the understudy for the leads roles of George Washington and Aaron Burr, said, “People have an idea about what registering to vote is. They think it’s going to involve 20 pieces of paper. No one thinks it’s going to be so easy.”

Cast members sit in the doorway to the theater as the line of people registering to vote moved passed, often stopping to take a picture with the registrants once their form was submitted. Photo: Madison Darbyshire.

“Hamilton” has gotten attention in the musical theater community for its multicultural cast and hip-hop story of America’s founding father, Alexander Hamilton. The show is now the subject of a documentary premiering at the New York Film Festival, and a best-selling book. President Obama has seen “Hamilton” several times, and the production has participated in special fundraising performances for the Democratic Party.

After one performance, President Obama took the stage to thank the audience. Visits from the President had a galvanizing effect on the cast. “He came on stage and gave a 20-minute speech. He had a three-ring binder with a speech in it, but I never saw him turn a page. It was thrilling,” said Brig Borney, the company manager. “The cast realizes that it’s an important election to vote in.”

“’Hamilton’ has touched a lot of people’s lives but that fame doesn’t mean anything unless you do something with it,” said Walker.

But for some participating in the event, the fervor outside the theater was troubling. “Is good and bad. People shouldn’t just wait for ‘Hamilton’ to register,” said Hamilton ensemble member Tanairi Vazquez, when she considered the number of registrants who had been eligible to vote for several years. “People should just do it for the world. ‘Hamilton’ shouldn’t matter.”

Still, Ham4Vote drew in nearly 75 new registrants before the evening performance. Anna Barber just moved to the city for college, and found registering at the event “very effective, obviously.” Her brother, Jake Barber, is also a big fan of the show and was “really mad,” he said about being already registered to vote, and so unable to register with the cast.

That didn’t stop some fans from getting in line to meet the cast.

“Do you know what the consequences are of registering twice?” Rachel Kumar asked her companion under her breath, as they approached the table.