16 BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP • MAY 13 - MAY 19, 2016 His shot: An exclusive interview with New Utrecht graduate, “Hamilton” star Anthony Ramos BY MEAGHAN MCGOLDRICK firstname.lastname@example.org One Brooklyn native is not throwing away his shot. At just 24 years old, New Utrecht High School graduate Anthony Ramos (Class of 2009) is making a name for himself on the Broadway stage on which he stars as both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning musical “Hamilton.” But, if not for the people in his life (and the New York City public school system), things could have panned out differently for Ramos, who, at one time, aspired to be a professional baseball player. Ramos spoke to this paper about his time on the “Hamilton” train, how he got on board, and what his success means for students citywide. Where did your journey start? I grew up in Bushwick, and I lived with my mom. She was a single parent with three kids. My brother and I were all about sports, but I always enjoyed singing. I would kind of do it recreationally. I never had a voice lesson growing up. My mom would just be like, “Anthony, sing for the family.” Looking back, when my cousins and I were kids, we’d put together these little skits – these 10-minute improv scenes. I didn’t really understand what I was doing – that I was writing these mini-sketches and acting – but we were all totally into it. It was just a thing we did, and we did it at every family event until we got to be “too old” for it. Did you ever get “too old” for singing? In my junior year of high school, I auditioned for my fi rst musical at New Utrecht High School, which I thought was a talent show. I heard that they were hosting auditions for something called “Sing,” so I took a shot. I auditioned and Sara Steinweiss, founder and former musical director of the New Utrecht High School Theater Guild said to me, “Oh, can you read these lines?” I asked why and she said, “Because this is a musical.” So, I went ahead and did it and had a great time. The shows were in the winter, and baseball was in the spring, so I fi gured it was something I could do to keep busy. After “Sing,” I went on do my fi rst fullscale musical, “Back to the ‘80s,” and things like “Little Shop of Horrors,” which was my fi rst lead role, and then “Into the Woods” at Bishop Kearney High School. Did baseball ever take a backseat? I never loved anything more than sports and fi nally, this thing came along. I started to lose my zeal for playing ball, and I started to get this hunger for performing. I had no idea how to pursue it, so I was just going to go to school for liberal arts and play ball at the same time. But, my family was going through some things at the time and my applications got withdrawn. I really had no college to go to coming out of high school, until one day, Sara came into school and said, “I want you to audition for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA).” I said “You’re crazy.” Why was she crazy? I didn’t have the money to go there, but Sara paid for my application and she helped me do my essays. I was hesitant, but, sure enough, I auditioned and I got in. At the time, I was doing a community theater show at Christ Church in Bay Ridge with the Strivelli Players, and had quit my baseball team. One day, Sara walked into one of our rehearsals and said, “I gave your name to the Jerry Seinfeld Scholarship Fund. They fund people’s college tuition but they haven’t given it to anyone at our school in fi ve years. I told them your story and they want to meet you.” Because I got into AMDA, they kept calling about loans. I remember my mom said to me, “Don’t worry, God is gonna make a way.” The next thing you know, God made a way. I told admissions to give me one more day and I’d give them an answer about the loans. I got a call two hours later from the Jerry Seinfeld Scholarship Fund saying that they wanted to give me a full ride. I had already met with them…I told them that I just need somebody to give me a shot. One shot. I immediately fell to my knees in the living room with my mother just praying. Where did you go after graduating from AMDA? Graduating was rough for me. I had a job right out the gate, but after that, it was dead for a bit. From July until October, there was nothing. But then I just kind of regrouped, and told myself to keep trusting God and working hard. Then, bam, another gig hit. It was a national tour of “Damn Yankees.” It was a non-union tour, so we did 67 cities in three months. It was intense but it was one of the best times of my life. Maybe two months after that, the ball started to roll. I booked “In The Heights” in a regional theater, worked on a cruise ship, came back and booked a show at Radio City Music Hall. Things were going well. So, when did “Hamilton” come along? I was always auditioning while I was working, trying to set up my next gig. I was hustling hard at this point. I’d booked another show, “Heart and Lights,” but auditions were going on for “Hamilton” at the time – back then it was called “Hamilton’s Mix Tape.” They were doing one more lab before it was going to the Public Theater downtown. I didn’t really know what was going on, so I walked in to audition for another musical being cast by major Broadway casting agency Telsey and they said, “Hey, we’d like you to audition for this ‘Hamilton’s Mix Tape.’” I saw Lin -Manuel Miranda was attached to it and he’d written “In The Heights,” but I didn’t see how it could work with this other show I was scheduled for. The casting director said, “I see you’re doing this other show, but you’re right for this so I’m just going to call you back.” Sure enough, “Heart and Lights” got cancelled during previews. I lost my job at 11 a.m., and at 4 p.m. got a phone call asking if I’d want to do “Hamilton.” These things just kept happening in my life. That’s how I got on the “Hamilton” train. How do you feel about being here? It feels good. This is an awesome thing that I’m a part of, but it also requires a lot of responsibility and a lot of sacrifi ce and a lot of time, but I wouldn’t want it to be any other way – not right now. It also feels good to be in something that you care about – and I care about this a lot. What advice would you give to students today? I just want kids to know that, no matter what your circumstance is and no matter where you’re from, you can always make a way. There’s always a way out of or a way in to do something – that thing that you want to do. I think that it’s important for parents to back their kids, to support them and to help them fi nd some mentors – mentors like I had in Sara. Sara helped me fi nd this thing. She didn’t push this on me. She just saw something in me that she knew was unique. She opened the door for me, but it was me that made the fi nal decision. She saw me doubting myself but she motivated me. All along, she knew this was something that I wanted to do, and I think it’s important for kids to know that they’ve got to do what they want to do. “Hamilton,” a diverse, hip-hopand rap-infused narrative about the nation’s founding fathers, made its Off-Broadway debut at the Public Theater in February, 2015, and premiered on Broadway in August, 2015. Tickets are available by lottery at www.hamiltonbroadway. com. To read our full, un-cut interview with Ramos, visit www.homereporter.com. Photo by Aaron Vazquez Anthony Ramos.
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