Let’s talk about community and belonging. These are the groups we create for ourselves where we can be exactly who we are, how we are and be accepted at face value. This is what the human connection is all about, and how it grows. We all belong to many communities, and for myself I’d include: Broadway, dance, speech pathology, The Shondaland fandom, and avid podcast listener. Given all of that information, it comes as no surprise that I am OBSESSED with Hamilton. I was fortunate enough to see the show April 1, 2016 and my life has never been the same. I looked for everything I could and then I found The Hamilcast: A Hamilton Podcast, hosted by Gillian Pensavalle and Bianca Soto. I listen to their podcast every week, and they were generous enough to let me interview them for the blog. This is the first of a three part interview, and this portion focuses on community–building one, being a part of one, and finding your place.
StageSLP: How did you find theatre?
Gillian: I found theatre through my parents and my upbringing. I was lucky enough to grow up in and around the greatest city in the world, and my parents took me to shows all the time. They had original cast recordings on records and then a lot of two-disc sets.
Bianca: I grew up in a house that was already very much into theatre. My mother and grandmother especially were huge influences on me. My first Broadway show was the Damn Yankees revival in 1994. But even before that, I was always listening to cast recordings and familiarizing myself with film versions of musicals.
S: Were you involved with theatre in school?
G: It’s funny, even though I went to high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I was only in plays because the school was so small they could only put on plays and not musicals. My parents’ living room, however, was a totally different story… I was every role in any number of shows.
B: I was not. I never went to any schools that had a drama department so the opportunity wasn’t there. Had it been I’m fairly certain I would have been a legit drama club kid. I was a dancer but that was separate from anything school related.
S: Were your theatre friends separate from your other friends?
G: I always went to really small schools, and it kind of didn’t matter. Ashley, who has been on The Hamilcast, and I are closer than family. I have yet to find a way to describe how close we are, but I think it’s all about finding one person who gets you and you’ll be okay. And starting this podcast, I’ve learned that it doesn’t even mean that the person needs to live in your state, time zone, or even on your continent. I always think of the line from one of my favorite shows, “Freaks and Geeks” – and for context, the character is a freshman in high school which makes this even more poignant – “I don’t need another friend. I mean, I already have two! How many friends does a guy need?!”
B: I had a healthy mix of friends but the majority at least had a general interest in theatre. Regardless of that, I was often wary though of mixing friends from different areas of life. I was always nervous that they wouldn’t gel.
S: When did you realize that you created this space for so many people to share their experiences?
G: I knew from the very first interaction; the fact that we had interactions blew my mind. From the very beginning, people were being so open and honest with us. And not just honest, but the emails made it clear that our listeners felt this was a safe space. I wanted to be able to talk about Hamilton without the blank “uh huh” and glazed-eye response, so I totally get it. And while Hamilton is the icebreaker in many of the emails we receive, in the next paragraph they go in on their family, medical, emotional, medical, situations. And I make sure to take the time to really, truly respond to every message.
B: Pretty quickly actually. We started getting emails form people and the running theme in so many of them was that they felt like they were hanging out with us and that they had found a place where they could channel their fandom. So many of the people who email us tell us they didn’t have any friends or family that share their enthusiasm for theatre, and we’ve helped provide an outlet for them. Right away we were amazed by that. It wasn’t at all expected or anticipated but we love that it has become a byproduct of the podcast.
S: How do you feel about having created such a space?
G: It’s unreal. Our listeners are the greatest and most wonderful people in the world, and they deserve the best podcast I can possibly give them.
B: Incredible! We really take pride in the casual approachable nature of the podcast and it’s really awesome to know that that feeling that we have while recording manages to stay intact and have an effect on people listening across the globe.
S: There’s a lot of people out there covering both Hamilton and Broadway across social media platforms and outlets. Can you talk about setting yourselves apart from everyone else out there, and the importance of creating your own space instead of joining in something similar that already exists?
G: To be honest with you, I don’t think about that. When I created this podcast in January of 2016, Hamilton was INSANELY POPULAR but no one else had a podcast about it. I’m really proud that The Hamilcast is the first Hamilton podcast to exist. We are an inclusive community and the minute someone emails or tweets at us, I feel an instant connection and my welcoming response is 100% genuine. When I tweet “welcome to the party!” I mean it wholeheartedly.
B: Hamilton is unique in that it seems like the first show to really take social media by the horns and find creative ways to use it. Which, in turn, inspires other people to do the same. When we first started, we reached out to people who were already on that track: Kathleen Cameron who did the #KathDoesHam dubsmashes, Hollis of @hamiltonssquad, Lizzy of @thehamwing, Amber of @hamiltonasdogs…. Essentially, we are all doing the same thing just in different forms. We all are obsessed with this little show called Hamilton, and found ways to create around that and interact with others. To us, it only made sense to want to talk to those awesome ladies because our projects share some DNA already. I think it’s been really fun and exciting to be able to become a part of the culture.
S: How did you feel about having guests on, especially as people who admire the work of whomever the guest was? How did you keep your composure while talking to them?
G: Having the guests we’ve had on is on is incredible. I know that word is overused, but it’s accurate. The thing is, they’re all just super fun and amazing people. I’m actually sitting on my floor talking to people who are living our the “look around, look around” lyric. My goal is to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible – since they’re coming over to my apartment – and once I hit record, it all falls into place. But yeah, we do a little YAS IT HAPPENED dance whenever someone leaves (and I make sure the conversation actually recorded because who knows).
B: It’s just the best. I can’t stress that enough. I think no matter how excited we might be to talk to a particular guest, we recognize that in the end we want to put a good conversation out into the world. So we just stay focused on that. Also, we really want to make our guests comfortable and have a good time. So we roll out the red carpet treatment, the comfy chair, and reassure them that we can talk about literally anything they want. We’re not stuffy journalists out for answers. We are interested in fun and engaging conversation.
S: You two get quite a bit of interaction from your listeners. Do you ever find the community you created to be overwhelming or too much?
G: No way. We LOVE the interaction. It means so much to us that the show is resonating with people and they want to include us in their conversations.
B: No way, it’s not overwhelming at all. It might take us some time to respond to an email, but we always will. Even if we don’t respond to a tweet, we’re still so grateful that the tweet exists.
S: You two have known each other for a while. Anyone who listens to your episodes can hear that you’re close, and it seems like you’ve created your own little family of recurring guests that are friends of yours. Can you speak to your collaborative process and the importance of finding your people?
G: It’s so funny because we’ve known each other for over 10 years, but we’ve only been officially back in touch since October 2015 because of Hamilton. And then we started texting constantly and by January of 2016 I asked Bianca if she’d be down for the podcast. But yeah, we’re basically long lost sisters; we’re both lefties, both only children, both people who can have musicals and 90’s alt rock and Tori Amos on their iPods, and we just understand each other. Plus, Bianca is a Gemini and they’re always looking for their twin and I think it’s clear she found her. #youwillbefound
B: I think eventually everyone finds their people. Gillian and I may have met over a decade ago but didn’t find the real friendship part until a year and a half ago #ThanksHam. I think as adults it’s easier to weed out the junk and decide who your people really are.
S: Growing up and as adults, did you/do you find it difficult to make and maintain friendships?
G: It is hard to make new friends, but, like they say on every reality show ever: “I’m not here to make friends.” I’m doing my thing and if a new friend comes down the pike, which happens, then awesome.
B: It wasn’t hard necessarily. I’ve had lots of friends come and go as it’s just the nature of life. And the ones who were really solid have never left. And as an adult I think we grow tired of games and nonsense so you can figure out pretty quickly if someone is worth your time or not.
S: Can you speak to the welcoming and accepting atmosphere that you’ve created among your listeners?
B: It’s definitely organic. It might sound foolish but we really didn’t have a plan. So everything that has come as a result of the podcast both with our guests and listeners are all happy accidents and a product of genuine enthusiasm and wanting to connect with people.
G: We didn’t have any plans for this podcast other than: we love this thing, we love talking about it, maybe people will want to hear us talking about it and then want to talk about us talking about it?!
S: I personally believe that we all eventually find our people. Some of my students have a hard time making friends or engaging with others. They either are learning how to do so or the idea of putting themselves out there makes them uncomfortable. How would you suggest to these kids reach out to others?
G: Oh man, this question resonates so much. I’m an only child and I’ve always been a bit of a weirdo. I grew up in a time where finding my people had to happen face to face. I’m happy to say that’s not the case anymore. As Javier Munoz stressed in his second episode, if you have an internet connection, you can find your people. The good news is that you’re not alone – someone else loves the thing you love. Whatever it is! Someone else loves it, somewhere. If you can’t find that person in real life, look online. And if you can’t find them, email us and we’ll help you out. Even if you’re not into Hamilton, we’re here to help.
B: This can be really tricky, I’m sure. Especially if you’re currently in a place of feeling alone and without a support system. I think being an only child for me was helpful because I learned early on to learn how to have fun with just me if need be. I didn’t feel too much stress to always be in the center of the action. But on the flip side it really is true that eventually we all find our people. If kids are having a hard time engaging with others I’d say to start small. Maybe it starts with talking about the latest episode of a TV show you love. There’s usually a gateway topic that suddenly opens the doors to more.
S: I know I listen every Monday as part of my morning routine, but where can we find you?
G: I’m @GillianWithaG on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. We’re @TheHamilcast on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, our website is TheHamilcast.com.
B: I’m @_biancajean_ on Twitter and Instagram and my website is biancajeansoto.com and you can email us at TheHamilcast@gmail.com
It’s safe to say that the ladies of The Hamilcast have created a warm and welcoming community for all who choose to become a part of it. This is the same kind of environment I want for all of the students I work with; where they feel accepted, equal, and welcome just as they are. As a member of the special education community, I know the value of a community like this one. There are people I can talk to about a topic that no one else understands on such a level. This is not unlike the dance community, speech community, or truly, any biological or chosen family. For those of you still trying to find inclusion opportunities near you, contacting local schools, social skills professionals, or athletic groups are great places to start. My students and their families have been successful across these avenues. Further, don’t be afraid to ask your IEP team for inclusion opportunities, and get their opinions on the potential for increased inclusion opportunities at school, or resources they may have for extracurricular activities.
Stay tuned for part two of three of my conversation with Bianca and Gillian on Wednesday. And, please, if you’re not already go listen to The Hamilcast. New episodes are released every Monday, wherever you can stream podcasts. It is the best way to start every week, and I’m lucky enough to call myself a part of this community as well. I hope you all join us, as we pretend we’re in Gillian’s apartment listening to the unbelievable stories that get told #InTheRoomWhereItHappens.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP