More than 600 Temple University students sat in their homes in front of their computer screens, typing ‘Is this the Zoom where it happens?,” waiting for Philadelphia native and Broadway star Leslie Odom Jr. to speak.
On Aug. 19, Odom, who played Aaron Burr in Broadway’s “Hamilton”, spoke as a part of Temple’s virtual Welcome Week about his past and his success on Broadway.
“Keep in touch with what your definition of success is because it will change as you reach your goals, as you achieve certain things, you gotta stay in touch with it,” Odom said at the event. “If you don’t, you will wind up running somebody else’s race. Somebody else will define what success is for you.”
“Hamilton” debuted on stage starting in 2015 but was suspended until Jan. 3, 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic social distance regulations.
“With the timeliness of “Hamilton” releasing on Disney Plus and some of the race relations conversations that have taken place over the summer, this was a really cool opportunity to have [Odom] join us to speak to our student population,” said Nikia Jefferson, the assistant director in the Student Activities office.
The first virtual Welcome Week has had successful attendance as Odom’s speaker series mirrored attendance for past on campus speaker events, Jefferson said.
“That’s really encouraging as far as our Temple students, faculty and staff still wanting to be engaged and come together as a community to have these kinds of experiences as part of some of the larger modifications that we needed to make to keep everyone safe,” she added.
When senior theater major Emily Bowden heard about the opportunity through email and Iinstagram, she was excited.
“He’s very famous, definitely someone that’s respected in the industry both by me and a lot of people,” Bowden added. “So just getting to hear him talk will be really interesting and not something I have the chance to do a lot.”
Bowden saw “Hamilton” on Disney Plus, the traveling Broadway version in Washington D.C. and knows the soundtrack, but was excited to learn more about Odom’s work prior to Broadway.
Odom auditioned for “Rent” when he was 16 and was cast as a member of the ensemble. At the event, he said he would have auditioned to be in Rent until he got a part because he loved acting and that show.
“If there is an area of interest, media, science, lighting, medicine, anything you know, my advice is to love it. Love it with your whole heart,” Odom. said. “What I mean is you read about it, you write about it, you think about it, you dream about it, you visualize yourself in it, you talk to other people about it you find other people that love it to, you find the chat rooms, you walk toward it and eventually, it will love you back.”
Junior communications and social influence major Casey Tsou said despite the event being held over Zoom, Odom still engaged with the audience.
“He was looking in the chat, responding to the chat, even asking for the chat to give some affirmation that they were listening to everything he was saying and processing it and really feeling it,” Tsou added. “I think he was a really great guest speaker who really engaged his audience and made it feel like he was part of the community.”
Tsou attended the event because she is a fan of Broadway musicals and saw “Hamilton” with her parents in 2018. Odom also attended the same school as her, Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School Spring Garden St, she said.
“It’s really cool seeing someone coming from Philly coming from my high school reach such amazing success,” she added.
During the event, Odom said that he hopes that musical theater can become more inclusive. “Hamilton” helped pioneer that idea since it took a historical event, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and made it Black, he said.
“We were thinking about politics and the highest office of the land, we were thinking about what that looked like in Black,” Odom added.
To close out the event, Odom sang “Wait For It” and “The Room Where it Happened,” from “Hamilton.” Odom changed the words in “The Room Where it Happened” to ‘the Zoom where it happened.’