by JESSICA HOLLAN
I arrived a respectable 15 minutes early (#Dragontime), and I still had to sit multiple rows down from the front. Without darting through the audience behind our student body president Trent Dundore I wouldn’t have stood a chance at gaining a respectable seat. But what else did I expect when an original cast member of the hit Broadway show Hamilton comes to town?
The week of March 19 was an exciting one on campus. Plastered around the school buildings and all over Tiffin University’s social media was #CCUatTU and “Celebrating CulTUral Uniqueness Week at Tiffin University.” The whole week was full of speakers, events, hashtags, giveaways, and great pride from every member of the TU community.
Maybe it was Professor Nick Reinhard’s high level of energy as he whirled from event to event like a hurricane, maybe it was the social media downpour of students’ hashtagging #CCUatTU in every tweet, maybe it was just seeing President Lillian Schumacher’s pride at everything her campus has accomplished, but overall it gave Tiffin University a particularly energetic vibe.
Celebrating cultural uniqueness was an initiative started by President Schumacher when she first began her reign in 2016, and the weeklong celebration was kicked off by an incredibly moving speech by Hamilton cast member Betsy Struxness. Aside from having possibly the coolest last name in the business, Struxness displayed grace throughout the entirety of her speech. Most people have difficulty not only writing an hour-long speech but also making that speech meaningful enough to capture the audience throughout. Struxness accomplished that and much more.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from such a notable performer entering Marion that Monday. I suppose I had preconceived notions about Struxness. I had read the biography sent out to every student via email announcing her impending visit to Tiffin University and assumed that anyone with that talent and those credentials would not have much time to dedicate to Small Town University, Ohio and its weeklong celebration amongst the corn fields.
I was wrong. From the moment I entered Marion, I searched for her near the stage and was immediately captivated by the small pixie with the big grin and edgy, platinum blonde hairstyle who shook hands, took pictures, and chatted with members of the faculty, staff, and students as she waited to take the stage.
Struxness, who had been the original understudy for Angelica Schuyler, opened up her time by singing the eldest Schuyler sister’s solo, “Satisfied”, my personal favorite. As a fellow performer I already knew I was going to love Struxness, but I never would have imagined that within one hour this Julliard-trained dancer who had worked beside Lin Manuel-Miranda would take me with her on an adventure and would have taught me so much.
Struxness had been with Hamilton since the beginning. She had dedicated time, sweat, and tears to creating the hit show that has sensationalized the nation. Before Hamilton was even picked up, before anyone knew what it would become, it was a show that rehearsed in small spaces, and Struxness was there pulling “double duty” as she said “they call it in The Business.” Before Hamilton Struxness was already performing on Broadway in Matilda and then bagan working on turning Hamilton from a dream into a Broadway worthy show as a part of that original cast.
Struxness weaved her story with a type of eloquence unmatched by anything I had ever heard before. I felt as though I was with her as she exhausted her mind and her body learning and relearning choreography for one show while performing in two Broadway shows the same day. I suffered with her when she overstressed her back and spent days unable to move during her vacation into Europe. I floated with her as she spoke of the beautiful and challenging routines the Hamilton cast worked tirelessly toward. I worried about her when she spoke on the mistreatment towards performers, even within the business they work so hard for. I soared with her on Hamilton’s Broadway debut and felt her excitement learning her boyfriend was in the crowd. I felt her stress when learning the original cast members had spent so long being underpaid. I sought justice with her as she fought to sing the lead she had been promised. And I was proud of her when she decided to do what was best for her when choosing to leave the show.
I sat in awe of her: her strength, her courage, her dedication to her art. After her speech I elbowed my way through the crowd and stood second in line to take a picture with her. Shaking her hand, I complimented her on her superior speaking skills and with a relieved sigh she thanked me profusely and then told me she had never done anything like that before.
I stared at her, mouth agape, utterly shocked. Recovering I told her that it didn’t seem that way at all. That in fact I was under the impression this was a speech she was touring universities with as it was so well written. She laughed as she said “Oh no! Just here.”
A part of me thought she missed her calling, and I pitied every other university for missing out on the incredible experience I was somehow lucky enough to have been in the audience for. My feet hadn’t even left the Marion Center and already I had pulled up clips from Hamilton and Struxness was in nearly every scene whirling and flying through the air, moving with the immense grace, strength, and agility only an artist of great dedication could ever be capable of.
Struxness never fed us fairy tales of showmanship; she didn’t just tell us about the triumphs or the successes. She gave us the truth. The bad that goes along with the good, and I respect her more for it.
I shared the photos I had taken with her on twitter. The caption read on what an honor it was to have heard her story as a Broadway performer, dancer, original Hamilton cast member, and all around lover of life. All hashtagged under #CCUatTU of course.
Struxness reminded us that with all success comes hardships, and sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. There is greatness everywhere as long as you remember to stop and enjoy the things and people around you.
I hope to someday hear that Struxness has shared her speech with more than just my small TU community. Everyone would benefit from the authenticity that is Betsy Struxness.
(Watch Struxness' speech here and learn more Struxness by reading her interview with The Tystenac here.)