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‘Who tells your story?’ Hamilton stars ask Belfast students

Image caption, Paul Oakley Stovell and Nikhil Saboo with Jamie and Hanna

Writers try to solve social problems, and you should speak up for what you believe in.

That’s the message from two stars from the original tour of the hit musical Hamilton.

Paul Oakley Stovell – who played George Washington – and Nikhil Saboo held an acting workshop at a school in North Belfast on Thursday.

So you’ll forgive the high number of Hamilton lyrics in this article, we hope.

Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

The workshop, at Blessed Trinity College, was part of Frederick Douglass Week, celebrating the former slave who spent time in Ireland on an abolition tour.

It included a group of children from Blessed Trinity, Ashfield Girls’ School, Lagan College and St Colm’s High School, teaching a range of performance skills.

“Theatre, creation and writing are all about problem-solving,” Mr Oakley Stovall told BBC News NI.

“Writers identify a social problem and they try to solve it. Actors memorise their lines and songs in a way that solves the problem of telling the story correctly and that’s what I love about this job.”

Image caption, A life-size bronze statue of black American anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass was unveiled in Belfast city centre last year

“My colleague Nikhil and I wanted to teach these kids about how their words can hold effect,” he said.

“We’re used to working with young people who already have a strong interest in performing arts, so today was more of a challenge for us. However, it’s equally rewarding to see the spark ignite within them,” he said.

I wanna be in the room where it happens

Mr Oakley Stovall played George Washington in the first national tour of ‘Hamilton: An American Musical’.

“I think the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was very savvy in casting the living descendants of enslaved people in the roles of the people who had originally enslaved them,” he said.

“Some people say that race and slavery was not addressed enough within the musical, but I think this was done through casting.”

Mr Saboo, who was also part of the first national tour of the musical, played in the ensemble cast.

The worldwide hit, which debuted in 2015, narrates the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers.

Raise a glass to freedom

Thursday’s workshop was also attended by descendants of Frederick Douglass: Kenneth B. Morris Jr. and Nicole Morris.

Mr Morris Jr said: “Frederick Douglas had a great quote; he said, ‘It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’

“To have the opportunity like we have had today to talk about Frederick Douglass and the importance of education in his life to these young people is amazing.”

Frederick Douglass, a former slave, was a leading member of the abolitionist movement to outlaw slavery in the US. He visited Belfast a number of times in the 1840s at the invitation of the Belfast Anti-Slavery Society.

Image caption, Frederick Douglass’s descendants Nicole Morris and Kenneth B. Morris Jr. told Belfast pupils to stand up for what they believe in

Kenneth, who is the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, added “We taught the students today that Frederick wasn’t much older than they are now when he started his career in abolitionism and activism.”

“That is an example for these young people of someone who stood up for a cause that he believed in and spoke out.

“The workshop today encourages them to do the same,” he said.

It’s a sentiment that echoes the famous Hamilton line: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”

There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait

One of the workshop attendees, Jamie, a 14-year-old student at Blessed Trinity College, said: “I’d like to be a barber, but I still really enjoyed today.

“I liked interacting with people from other schools and learning from the actors in Hamilton.”

“I thought it was interesting that Frederick taught himself to read and write in secret so his slave master wouldn’t find out,” Jamie added.

Another attendee, Hanna, a 14-year-old who also attends Blessed Trinity College added: “I found it nerve-wracking to stand up and perform my speech.

“However, Paul and Nikhil taught me how to boost my confidence and speak from the heart.

“Confidence is really important. Being able to look in front of you and project what you’re saying is not easy, but it’s a good skill to have,” she said.

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