Alexander Hamilton comes alive at Summit County library event
October 18, 2016
Hal Bidlack eats, sleeps and breathes Alexander Hamilton.
A resident of Colorado Springs, Bidlack, dressed in colonial garb and wig, tours the country portraying Hamilton.
Prior to performing as one of the founding fathers, Bidlack served in the United States Air Force for over 25 years. That includes service as deputy director of the United States Air Force Institute for National Security Studies, military advisor to an ambassador at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., ICBM launch officer, and instructor and associate professor of political science at the Air Force Academy.
It was fellow performer Clay Jenkinson who first recruited Bidlack to be Hamilton. Jenkinson interprets Jefferson on the weekly radio show "The Thomas Jefferson Hour."
After a year of study, Bidlack began performing as Hamilton, and on occasion would tour with Jenkinson doing debates in character.
"We pretend to be dead people, and people pretend to believe us," said Bidlack.
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Bidlack will perform as Hamilton on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the Buffalo Mountain Room at the Frisco County Commons as part of the Summit County Library's Adult Fall Reading Program events.
The Summit Daily caught up with Bidlack and asked him about his method and style of performance.
Summit Daily News: What can the audience expect from this event?
Hal Bidlack: It's whatever they make it. In the first phase of the Chautauqua Method, I introduce the character. I show the audience who he was and share his ideas and beliefs. The second phase of the Chautauqua Method, I am still Hamilton, and people have opportunities to ask questions. … This tests your knowledge. It's a lovely intellectual challenge, since you never know what you'll get. During the third phase I break character and talk to the audience as myself. The reason I think this method works is that the big questions of our founding period haven't been settled. Economic equality, sexuality, race inequality and states' powers — these are all issues that have resonated across centuries. They still are relevant.
SDN: How do you prepare for your role as Alexander Hamilton?
HB: I have been doing these performances for about 20 years now, and it took a year of study before I felt comfortable doing it in person. On the radio, you can have your notes. But on stage with your wig and outfit, you have to be prepared. I have a core set of notes that I re-read. I've read almost everything that exists on Hamilton. I purchased the 27 volumes of Hamilton's collection — everything he wrote. … Every audience deserves a fresh and energetic performance. I reference my go-to notebook in which I have major quotes, timelines and relationships. And a couple decades of doing this helps, too.
SDN: Why do you think sharing American history is important?
HB: You know the old age saying, those that don't know history are doomed to repeat it. It's true. I also think our history is inherently fascinating. I have wondered over the years why there is less interest in the founding years. I think I'm convinced it's in part because of the lack of photographs. During the Revolutionary War period there were painting depictions of events and people, not photographs.
SDN: How do you engage your audience?
HB: I show that these people were real. These individuals were real living, breathing people. We are the spawn of revolutionaries. It was the first time in world history that people said to a monarch, "We are equal to you. We breathe; therefore we have a right to be free." When people hear George Washington, what comes to mind is a white marble statue and Mount Rushmore. When these people become real they are much more interesting. They have the same personality flaws and depth in character.
SDN: What are you most excited for in this performance?
HB: Every performance is unique to where I am. This is my first performance in Summit County. The introductory remarks are catered to the local area. I try to never turn down performances at libraries. I have a passion for libraries. They are sacred places to me. They are sacred, secular repositories for everything good and bad in the world. They hold the story of our civilizations.
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