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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Aaron Alexander on being part of the 'Hamilton' ensemble
by Catey Sullivan
2019-01-16

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Two years and three months into its Chicago run, Hamilton remains one of the costliest and most coveted tickets in town.

While the show has gone through multiple leadls—half a dozen Burrs, Elizas, Angelicas and Jefferson/Lafayettes have passed through—one cast member has been with the production since it opened in October 2016. Ensemble member Aaron Alexander is onstage for roughly 90 percent of the show, and is prepared to go on at a second's notice for any of the six small character roles.

This week, Alexander, an out native of Seattle, is embarking on his first prolonged vacation since the show opened—heading for Israel for a birthright trip. We caught up with him shortly before he left. Here's what he had to say about being in the room where Hamilton happens for eight shows a week.

Windy City Times: So you're a "swing" in the cast, and you cover a bunch of different "tracks." Explain.

Aaron Alexander: I'm in the ensemble, so I'm on stage for almost the entire show. I cover several different roles plus all the dance tracks—I go in and out where I'm needed. If someone calls out sick or gets injured, I step in.

Sometimes you have a week notice before you swing in to in a role, sometimes—like if somebody gets sick or injured—it happens mid-show. You rally your body and your spirits and you suit up and go.

I cover [disgraced Battle of Monmouth] General [Charles] Lee, [King George shill] Samuel Seabury, [Philip Hamilton dueler] George Eacker and [extortionist] James Reynolds. It's a lot to learn and a lot of upkeep.

I was never a swing before Hamilton, never understudied anything. It's been a lesson in letting go of ego. As a swing, you learn really fast that the show is much, much bigger than any one person. It's taught me about humility and how to embrace change.

One of the coolest things about Hamilton—the reason we all have a single bow at the curtain call—is because of that, because it's bigger than one person. It's dependent on every single person on stage.

WCT: By my count, Hamilton Chicago has gone through about six Burrs, at least three Angelicas and two Elizas. Is it difficult to learn to say goodbye?

AA: You learn to adapt quickly. You learn to keep heart open to change, because it happens so frequently.

When somebody new comes on, it can be reinvigorating. You're experiencing the show a little differently than you have been because every performer that takes on a lead has their own nuances and energy and mannerisms, even though obviously they music and the lyrics and the show itself doesn't change. It's fun.

WCT: You've got a job that hundreds—arguably thousands—of people wanted and auditioned for. How brutal was the audition process?

AA: I wasn't that familiar with the show when I auditioned. You can't be really familiar with a show until you've seen it, and I was in L.A., so I hadn't seen it. I'd heard some of the music, but other than that, I didn't know much. I was going through a dry patch. No work for about six months, just a lot of being on hold for jobs I wouldn't get. A friend told me 'Hamilton' had really quirky choreography style that I would take to, so when I heard they were having auditions in Los Angeles, I went. Quirky has always been my strong suit.

WCT: You trained as a dancer?

AA: I didn't consistently train with any formal institution as a kid—I did a lot of of drop-in classes in Seattle, always kind of a drifter. I performed a lot at malls in this hip-hop crew with a bunch of 20 years olds when I was 12 —

WCT: Wait: You were a 12-year-old hip-hop performer? In malls?

AA: I was the little kid in the group Street Level. We'd do combos from pop songs at street fairs and things. That was the music and dance style I loved. So when I heard about Hamilton, I wanted to give it a shot.

WCT: Back to the audition...

AA: The first audition in L.A. was three hours. We learned two combos, there were two cuts. After that I did what I do with all my auditions—I let it go. Didn't think about it. Two months later, I got invited to a final call back in New York. They had us learn five combos. Then we did singing. It was a long day.

WCT: So, years later, you're doing eight shows a week. And not like Les Miz shows where you get an hour break after you die and can go take a nap. How do you take care of yourself?

AA: I don't drink much anymore. It messes with my energy. I don't eat a lot of pizza. I do stay up late—I'm off work at 11, and then I have to have dinner and wind down. It's mostly just general awareness: Don't eat a lot of junk. If you're tired, schedule a nap. The show is an exercise in listening to your body.

WCT: I've heard that all dancers dance injured—it's just a question of how much. Is that true for you?

AA: Before Hamilton, I was having recurring lower-back issues that I'd never gotten answers about. Now with the health insurance and the physical therapy the show provides, I've finally gotten those taken care of. Right now I'm dealing with a tweaked neck thing—I went on for George Eacker last week and I think I did something during then.

WCT: OK: Hamilton audiences—I've been in four. Sometimes they go berserk at lines like "Immigrants! We get the job done!" And sometimes they just sit there like stones. Does what the audience does impact your mindset?

AA: That's something else swinging has taught me: Sometimes you have really loud audiences and sometimes you don't. Either way, your job is the same: to deliver a great performance.

I know a lot of people notice how engaged the audience is, they feed off it. Me, I have to focus strictly on my track. I have a lot of compartmentalized information in my brain. I have top keep my awareness on precisely what I'm doing and what is happening around me. That makes me less aware of the ins and outs off the audience everyday.

WCT: I see you're a fan of [the FX series] Pose. Any other pop culture recommendations?

AA; [The FX miniseries] The Assassination of Gianni Versace is fantastic. So beautifully art-directed and obviously deals with a lot of LGBTQ+ issues. I think any new type of LGBTQ+ representation and exploration of that community is worthwhile. I mean, it's a creepy show. But it's fascinating.

I loved Head Over Heels [on Broadway]. That was wonderfully queer in many, many many ways. If it ever tours to Chicago see it. Everyone should see it. Oh. And [the TV series] Schitt's Creek—that is pretty great too.

WCT: Have you had a vacation since you started in Hamilton?

AA: I'm about to take one. Doing a birthright trip to the Holy Land. After that, time will tell. But I'll be back.

Hamilton continues at the CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. Tickets range from about $72 to approximately $500, plus "convenience" fees; visit BroadwayinChicago.com .


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