When Leslie Odom Jr. walked into the dimly-lit waiting room in Stephens Auditorium, all of the energy in the room turned to him, but he returned it with a warm smile and handshake.
During the afternoon before his lecture, he was calm, collected and ready to speak to an audience that he had an affinity for: college students.
“I had a wonderful time, had wonderful teachers,” Odom said of his college experience at Carnegie Mellon University. “I look back fondly at it.”
The dialogue with students when visiting college campuses is one of the main reasons why Odom chose to do a lecture tour, which has included stops at the University of Iowa and DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. He recalled the visitors to his university and how their inspiration and insight influenced him to offer the same sort of wisdom to college students today.
Odom’s lecture, Hamilton and the Road to Success: In Words and Music, is “an offering, made with love,” he said, delving into his time in the Tony Award winning musical, "Hamilton," and how he got to where he is today.
Odom played the role of Aaron Burr, vice president under Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton’s confidante turned nemesis. The play revolved around how men with different ideologies managed to come together to create the United States. The show has since become a cultural phenomenon, and Odom has always held the show close to his heart, wanting to do it justice every time he stepped out onstage.
“Hamilton felt like a dear friend to me," Odom said. "How do you introduce a dear friend to the world?”
One of the main concepts behind "Hamilton" is the idea that people with vastly different backgrounds and feelings can come together and create something that matters, such as the United States of America.
“If you can agree on the ending point, if you agree on destination, you can appeal to your higher self and come to the negotiating table,” Odom said.
The idea behind building a nation was applied to building a show like "Hamilton," where the cast was able to connect on a mission and reach its destination when united behind the words of the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, whom Odom worked with previously on another Broadway show: Tick, Tick...Boom!
“As a company, Lin had written the constitution of the play and given us our ethos, our Declaration of Independence," Odom said. "If anything got too far off, we could rally, but you were set free to make the boldest, most exciting choices."
Odom described all aspects of the musical as things he could relate to and “understand on a DNA level,” but his biggest challenge was understanding his role as Burr and the expectations set for someone playing a role as unique as his.
“Dealing with the worthiness," Odom said. "What Lin (Manuel Miranda) had put down was extraordinary, and this should be somebody excellent — am I worthy enough to be Aaron Burr?”
Odom said that while every step of the process was crucial, the focus involved during performance was what drove him to push himself during every show.
“For better or for worse, I wasn’t allowed to get carried away — I had a job to do," Odom said. "There was never a day that I got to say, ‘We did it,’ and kick back. You have to earn the applause every time you step out onstage."
Ideally, Odom did not see himself departing "Hamilton" when he did, but he realized that he had tools that he had yet to utilize in his career and in his life. After his departure from the show, Odom released a Christmas album, started recording with a band and started speaking at events like the college lectures.
“There are lots of tools for exploration but not enough for navigation,” Odom said. “It was time to discover.”
In terms of his lecture, Odom hoped to share aspects of his own story to inspire young people, offer advice and express what he wished someone could have said to him during his college years.
“I hope that [students] get a little inspired," he said. "I always hope for them to be taking in the world around them. We have to be artists of our time and creators in our time."
Odom hopes each student can discover their direction as well.
"This is our world — take it in, add what’s missing," Odom said. "There is a hole that’s meant for you, and only you can fill it, so get busy.”