How An Online Fandom Put Be More Chill On Broadway
When Chase Brock signed on to choreograph a new musical at a theater in New Jersey in 2015, he couldn't have predicted that four years later, he would be receiving fan art featuring his Chihuahua because of it. Nor could he have he imagined that the show—Be More Chill, based on the young adult novel by Ned Vizzini—would be heading to Broadway with one of the most enthusiastic teenage fan bases the Great White Way has ever seen.
The origin story of Be More Chill is already one of musical theater legend. After a month-long run at the Two River Theater, the creative team—including Brock, director Stephen Brackett, writer Joe Tracz and composer/lyricist Joe Iconis—thought the show's lifespan had unjustly passed. About two years later, Brock began noticing fan art popping up on Instagram, and assumed that Be More Chill was being performed at high schools or community theaters. (It wasn't yet: The show only became available to license in July 2017.) Instead, the cast recording was being streamed, over and over again, as teens discovered the show—and the rapidly growing canon of cosplay, fan fiction and fan art surrounding it—on YouTube, Tumblr and Instagram. By the spring of 2018, the album had been streamed over 100 million times. Be More Chill's success online is what convinced producers that it was ready for an off-Broadway production, which sold out before opening night; an extension of the run sold out in less than eight hours.
A move to Broadway, where the show begins previews this month, was almost inevitable. But the unapologetically quirky production will still be an underdog, just like its protagonist, Jeremy, a high school loser who ingests a pill-sized supercomputer called a Squip to help him be cool—or rather, "chill."
Brock partially attributes Be More Chill's wackiness to the absence of a commercial producer during development. "We were allowed to just do our thing, and as a result the show is spikier and stranger," he says. This freedom is also reflected in Brock's high-energy choreography, which draws from sources as various as a Belgian street dance called jumpstyle, and finger-tutting, which represents the digital world of the Squips. (His most memorable fan experience so far involved a teenage girl sitting near him on opening night off-Broadway, perfectly executing a complex finger-tutting sequence.)
Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Keith Sherman & Associates
What was it like to visually shape a show that thousands of fans had listened to but never seen? "I had to trust that if one part of the show was connecting strongly then all the other parts would connect that strongly, too," says Brock.
But Be More Chill will need more than a teenage cult following to survive on Broadway. Brock says the show already has a growing fan base in the parents who brought their superfan tweens to the off-Broadway production. But the goal isn't to appeal to everyone, anyway. In fact, Brock believes that part of what has made the show so successful thus far is how it has connected with a very specific group: LGBTQ teens who consider themselves outsiders. Be More Chill's popularity on social media has generated an unprecedented collaboration with these fans, who have imagined new relationships between characters that are now alluded to in the show. "They are speaking back to us," says Brock, "and we have a responsibility of listening."
- Chase Brock Theatre Credits ›
- First Look at the Off-Broadway Premiere of Be More Chill | Playbill ›
- BE MORE CHILL - dance rehearsal footage - YouTube ›
- Up Close and Personal With Be More Chill's Choreographer Chase ... ›
- Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini ›
- Review: 'Be More Chill' Is Dopey, Shrill and Somehow Very Popular ... ›
- Amazon.com: Be More Chill (9780786809967): Ned Vizzini: Books ›
- Be More Chill | Official Website ›
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.