Category: Guides

Meet Brandon Victor Dixon. Dixon, a Columbia College Class of 2007 graduate, is a two-time Tony Award Nominee. During his career, he has performed in various Broadway shows (including Columbia’s very own Varsity Show). Starting in August 2016, Dixon will assume the role of Aaron Burr in Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway show, Hamilton: An American Musical. As he prepares for his role, I sat down with him to talk about his career in the performing arts and his insights on pursuing your dreams and excelling in your career.

What did you study while at Columbia, and do you have any favorite memories from your time there? 

I was an Economics major initially. I left after my first semester senior year, but when I came back and I finished, I was a theater major. My favorite memories from school were of working on the Varsity Show V107 and V108.

What first sparked your interest in theater, and how did you explore that field as a student? Was it mostly through the Varsity Show?

I came to Columbia because I knew what I wanted to do, and I just wanted to go to school in New York so that I could audition and build my career. That’s why I came to Columbia, and I appreciated that Columbia had a campus, and a vibrant curriculum that I could delve into and expand my information base in general. But no, I didn’t go to Columbia to train, or help my career, though a lot of the work I did and the classes I took were of great help and education to me in the theater department at large. I came to Columbia so that I could be in New York.

What were some of the shows you’ve performed in prior to Shuffle Along, and now, Hamilton starting next month?

The Lion King, The Color Purple, Rent, Far from Heaven, The Scottsboro Boys.

With your recent casting as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, how are you preparing for the role? Are you nervous about anything about it?

Nope. It will be a good time. I’m working on a lot of the movement. The movement style is a little different for me so I’m focusing on the movement, but I’m approaching it like anything else. I’m doing my research. I’m learning the material. It’ll be interesting replacing someone in such a big and involved show. I’m going to be learning it even as I’m performing it.

What’s the most surprising or interesting that’s happened to you while performing and go like backstage?

While performing I fell in the orchestra pit one time. That’s one of the more interesting things. I can’t really think of anything that stands out about anything that’s happened backstage but definitely falling in the orchestra pit, that was an interesting one.

 What has been your favorite role to perform so far and why?

Eubie Blake in Shuffle Along. I’ve learned more about myself as a human being in this show and about all of us as human beings in the show. Also, it’s a culmination of everything that has come before it, so you know, it embodies all of the things that you see.

What general advice would you give to students interested in pursuing their career in theater and the performing arts?

The thing I’d say to anybody interested in pursuing anything: there are no rules, your power and ability are limitless, and keep going.

With Hamilton, did you know that you wanted to play Burr, or did they offer that role to you?

I didn’t want to be Burr … I wasn’t interested in doing the show because it’d been done. I don’t tend to replace. My goal is almost always to create something new but this is a unique show, and a unique opportunity and it came on at kind of the right time. The more they talked to me about it, and the more I thought about it, the more excited I did get about the process of joining the show. I am happy; it’s going to be a new experience.

What keeps you excited about being in theater? Is it that the audience has you perform? Is it just the idea of taking on the role of a new character? What motivates you or drives you?

Creating. Creation is what drives me. The reason we are here on this planet is to connect more deeply with ourselves and with each other, and art, and performance, and theater I think is a tool that I’ve come here with to make use of. Creating stories in this way, particularly … In art in general, particularly in live theater, it is a highly communicative, community experience. We get to share something special in that moment of time and that room with one another … And we leave transformed, and that is the important to evolve, to transform, to emote, and to connect with one another.

Since a lot of the people who will be reading this are incoming students, like this is their first time in New York, some have never seen a Broadway show. Do you have any advice for them like for shows they should, or general ideas and tips about what the magic behind Broadway is, in a sense?

The magic behind Broadway is that the people on stage create something from nothing. It’s creating magic, and it helps inspire you to create something from what you have. New York is a cultural bastion unlike any other. So see everything you can, do everything you can. Big, small, do it all.

 As you prepare for Hamilton, what’s your favorite song so far, whether it’s one you’ll be singing, or one some other character will be singing?

My favorite track in Hamilton is Guns and Ships but my favorite song to sing in that obviously is Wait for It.

Can I ask why Wait for It is going to be your favorite one to sing?

I think because I’m exploring the detail of the song but the thing that it sticks out for me is the chorus. Not a love, nor death, nor life, you know. It says,

Life doesn’t discriminate

between the sinners and the saints

it takes and it takes and it takes

and we keep loving anyway

we laugh and we cry and we break and we make our mistakes

And if there’s a reason I’m still alive

While everyone who loves me has died

and I’m willing to wait for it.

So minus the coda at the end, it’s that element of that’s true. Life is that, as is love, as is death, and they are all phases of the same thing, and they do not discriminate according to who you are.

Whether you are good or bad, it’s going to take something but you have to keep giving to it. It’s kind of a mini-encapsulated message about the circle of life, and what living is about. It’s a song with no resolution. He doesn’t figure anything out by the e`d of it. He starts affirming something, and then he starts questioning it, but then he finds himself left with a question in the end of it. It’s interesting piece but it’s one that’s resonated with me.

Brandon will begin performances as Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical starting in August 2016. For tickets to the show’s New York production, visit the show’s Broadway site.

Interested in interviewing students and alumni about how their time at Columbia has shaped their experiences and outlook? Join The Lion Profiles team by sending an email to team@columbialion.com.

Photo Courtesy of James Xue (SEAS ’17)

“I’m bored.”

This is the cry of every student who finds themselves swimming in the ocean of free time that is summer vacation. As much fun as it is to sleep the mornings away, it gets old after the third week. So what exactly should you do with your newfound free time? Why not spend it becoming acquainted with a subject you’ve never tackled before? Never fear if you didn’t apply for summer classes. There are plenty of quality learning resources available if you have a computer and internet access. The following resources are primarily video-based, though some include outside exercises and quizzes that you can use as supplementary materials. 

CourseWorld (Free)

What do you do when you want to learn about a topic but Wikipedia isn’t good enough? CourseWorld is a not-for-profit online resource committed to giving a quality liberal arts education to anyone who wants it. The instructional videos, mostly curated from YouTube, cover everything from religion to freelance writing. If you’re looking to learn about a specific topic, say Korean literature, this is the place for you. The site allows you to make an account and queue up your videos for later viewing if you’d like. It’s easy to search for the videos you’re looking for based on a keyword, and the site includes courses, or a related series of videos, for most subjects. The site draws primarily from documentaries, lectures, and discussion panels. 

Coursera (Free, starting at $49 for course certificate)

Miss the hallowed halls of Columbia and wish you were still in class? Coursera can help. The website offers massive open online courses, or MOOCs from universities like Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and our fair Columbia. They’re completely free, and you can take as much (or as little) from the courses as you’d like, as instructors don’t give students grades. Coursera’s courses are true blue college courses, which means it carries the workload of a college course. Keep that in mind before you sign up to take ten of them at the same time. It might be hard to motivate yourself to stay inside and watch videos when the pleasant weather of summer beckons from outside.

Compared to CourseWorld, it might be a little more challenging to wade through Coursera courses if you’re looking for specific information. On the other hand, by the end of the course, you’ll be a verified mini-expert. Also, when you sign up for a course, you can sign up for a special track that will award you a certificate at the end of the course. This special certificate track costs money, but there are scholarships available. The site offers everything from computer programming courses to foreign language. You must make an account to view videos, and Coursera takes its honor code pretty seriously. 

Lynda ($25 a month, free for Columbia/Barnard students)

Want to up your internship game? Lynda is a site that offers a multitude of courses in business and technical skills, all taught by industry experts. You can choose to watch videos independently, or if you’d like, you can choose to be on a “learning path” that will give you the skills of a certain occupation once you’ve finished all the videos. Examples include how to become an project manager and how to become an iOS app developer, though there are many others. The material here isn’t usually as engaging as the material on the other two sites, though Lynda is the only website to offer courses on “soft” skills like leadership. When you finish a course, you can post an acknowledgement of this fact directly on your LinkedIn profile. You have to make an account to view videos. You can access Columbia’s Lynda portal here.  

Fight the summer brain drain with these three online resources. Each site draws its strength from the particular method it uses to teach you and you can pick the best site depending on your individual needs. Just remember: you can can always learn, even in the summer. 

As you get ready to arrive to Columbia, The Lion team has compiled various packing lists from current students for the most important things to bring to campus.  It’s up to you to determine what to bring and what to buy later. During NSOP, Columbia operates a shuttle to Bed Bath & Beyond, so you can save on packing weight and just buy your supplies there.

And remember – you can always ask peers in your Class Facebook pages or by emailing team@columbialion.com

And to make it even easier, a student from the Class of 2020 compiled our packing list into a Google Doc that you can categorize based on when and where you will buy your supplies.

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Lion Guides: Literature Humanities Review

We here at the Lion understand that this is a hectic week for you leading up to Fall Break. Two or three midterms? A couple of papers? We truly feel your struggle. Thus, to take a little load off your shoulders and maybe grant you an extra hour or so of sleep, we took the liberty of compiling various study guides filled with A1 content. Hopefully, this will make your cramming a breeze (like the one Iphigenia was sacrificed for). Good luck: may the odds be ever in your favor.

The Lion team would like to credit Ryan Mandelbaum, Michelle Vallejo, and Constance Boozer for putting together this comprehensive review guide.

NOTE: Some texts such as, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon are not included.

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Photo by Aaron Appelle (CC '18)

Photo by Aaron Appelle (SEAS ’18)

Welcome to Columbia!  On behalf of everyone here, The Lion team would like to be one of the first to congratulate you for your achievements and welcome you to the Columbia community.

As you prepare for your arrival, our team went out and polled students from a variety of academic years and backgrounds in a series of upcoming posts asking them questions about Columbia that they wish they knew before arriving on campus. Our goal for this series is to provide you with an accurate understanding of what to expect when you join us on campus.

In this community editorial, we asked students: “What are things you wished you knew about Columbia before arriving?”

*Note: We chose not to edit these quotes nor filter out “problematic” ones. The Lion does not endorse any of these, but hopes to show initial thoughts of current students and alumni.

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