Last summer's off-Broadway run of Be More Chill. Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Keith Sherman & Associates

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."

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Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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