Have you ever heard the expression, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready”? You hear this from athletes, artists, and entertainers sometimes—usually from people who seem to be riding a cultural moment in which they play a role. I can think of no one who embodies that adage more right now than the subject of today’s inspiring story.
Andrew Chappelle sings, dances, raps, does impressions and improv, and right now has an actor’s dream job—he plays multiple characters in Hamilton on Broadway, from Lafayette and Jefferson to Mulligan and Madison. The HipLatina team got to see his work in action recently, and all we can say is that the show lives up to the hype. We found it uplifting, entertaining, informative, and so necessary in this moment. I was lucky enough to get to speak with Mr. Chappelle about his career, his views on why Hamilton has resonated so much with the public, how he stays in shape mentally and physically for his job, and what’s ahead. If you want to follow Andrew’s daily life, add him on Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat @Achapphawk.
HipLatina: First of all, congrats on Hamilton! What an incredible show to be a part of, and what an exciting moment in history to be a part of such fresh storytelling. When the HipLatina team was privileged to attend couple weeks ago, we were struck by the energy, both in the audience and on stage, surrounding the show. Obviously this play has struck a major cultural nerve, and I want to ask what you think accounts for that.
What are your thoughts on the significance of having a multiethnic cast, and using the urban musical form of Hip Hop to tell the story of this founding father—a story that has so often been told in strictly colonial terms, as this very traditional history book tale?
Andrew Chappelle: Well as you know, Alexander Hamilton immigrated to this country and effected great change. In this election there has been much discussion about immigrants and their contribution to this country. Having the story told by a group of people that look like America today encourages the audience to open their mind to the amazing similarities between America now and America then.
HipLatina: In a related question, do you feel that this show may make U.S. history more accessible to kids of all different backgrounds, who might listen to the soundtrack or even get to attend a performance, and might identify with the story more because of the type of music featured in the play?
AC: Absolutely, I remember being very disconnected from history in school. None of it seemed real. Historical figures all seemed so old and boring to me. One of the beautiful things about our show is that it portrays these historical men and women in today’s language with flaws to accompany all of their triumphs. When you think of it, the musical Hamilton would make a fantastic fictional story. The thing that knocks me off my chair is that it actually all happened here in our country! At the end of the day our founding fathers were humans that made tremendous strides for our country while having ideals that were not so fantastic ie: slavery. Our awesome producers along with our incredible creative team realized early the impact this show could have on kids. They formed an education initiative that allows for students to see the show at an affordable cost and interact with the cast in a really cool way. Those student matinees are something we love to do because their reactions are the best! This show will definitely inspire future historians and rappers alike!
HL: What (if anything) did you know about the show before auditioning?
AC: I knew that Lin was writing something called the “Hamilton Mixtape” at the time. I was a big fan of “In The Heights” and figured there would be a spot for me somewhere in the piece. I had no idea it was about Alexander Hamilton until I got the audition material!
HL: You are listed on the Hamilton playbill for at least eight understudy roles—wow! When we saw the show, you played Madison and Mulligan. I suppose my first question is how did you come to be cast in so many alternate roles?
AC: I auditioned for the show after they had done the lab and they were getting ready to start rehearsals for the run at The Public Theatre. All the roles were cast. But they needed someone to essentially cover all of the male roles except for Hamilton. I auditioned and well I guess you can see what happened after that! It was a very rigorous and high stakes audition in which I had to perform most of the score. I chose to be memorized which made it even more intense for my brain.
HL: Then, as a follow-up to that, how do you stay ready to jump into that many parts? How far in advance do you know which parts you’ll be playing on a given night? Is it day of?
AC: Lots hard work and sleepless nights at first! Now the show is in me inside and out so I’m ready for any character at a moment’s notice. I can find out months in advance or literally in the middle of a show. It’s been a great lesson in keeping calm and remaining reliable.
HL: How do you stay in shape to perform? I’m talking physically, vocally, whatever is required.
AC: I drink lots of water. I have a personal trainer that I work out with four times a week and then I work out by myself two days. We have a lot of stairs in our show so fitness is paramount to sustained health. I try not to get to in my head about how hard the show is and what it requires of all of us. I also love the show so much so it pushes me to be my best.
HL: Ok, I also was reviewing your website and watched a few of your Sketch Betch videos—they are hilarious! Tell me a bit more about that series. What was the genesis of it and what are your future plans?
AC: The Sketch Betch was born during a time I was unemployed and bored. I’ve always enjoyed playing different characters which comes in handy at Hamilton. The Sketch Betch was my brain child because I also like to create characters. Basically, these were all ideas that I just made come to life with costumes and lots of help from friends. Let’s call it a passion project! I can’t say I have any future plans for it. If I come up with an idea, I’ll film one. But it’s a lot of work so the idea has to really move me. I have to wake up wanting to do it for a while before I actually start putting thing in motion. Right now I have a few other things brewing that are taking my brainpower.
HL: You seem to be a bit of a jack of all trades when it comes to theatre and performance, with your BFA in musical theatre and background in improv comedy with Upright Citizens Brigade. Where does your heart lie? What would your dream role look like—comedy or drama? Singing, acting, both?
AC: I think every great actor tries to arm themselves with as many skills as possible. The more things you know how to do, the more jobs you can do, right? I love improv and comedy but I’m also an actor born to do musicals. One of my dream roles I get to perform quite often is Lafayette/ Jefferson. He’s a badass revolutionary who loves camaraderie with his brothers in act one. In act two, he is a charismatic panther ready to kill. I would also love to play George Berger in Hair or Bobby in Company one day. I think my true dream role hasn’t been written yet. Maybe it’s being written now or maybe I’m gonna write it. I think the art form of Musical Theatre is ever evolving and there will be a show that showcases everything I can do.
HL: How do you see social media and youtube as contributing to the career of an actor or comedian? Which social platform is your favorite, and why?
AC: Social Media is incredibly valuable to actors. It has given us the ability to essentially be our own publicists. The beauty of social media is that it allows your followers or fans to get a behind the scenes look at your life. If you are a private person, this isn’t great. But if you are game, it’s fun! Anybody can look up a red carpet picture of us on the internet but you can’t find me playing with my puppy unless you follow me on snapchat. So follow me! Snapchat, Twitter, instagram: @Achapphawk
HL: Please share a career secret we can share with the HipLatina audience.
AC: I’ve found that whenever I’m about to give up and crumble is when I’m the closest to the next big thing.
HL: Thank you so much for your time. We wish you the very best in your career, with Hamilton and beyond!
–Eva Gordon is the managing editor of HipLatina.