Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Teenager Shares his Thoughts on 'BE MORE CHILL'

We here in the offices of Two River Theater deeply love our latest production, of the new musical BE MORE CHILL. It was a commission by the theater to the writers Joe Tracz (book) and Joe Iconis (music and lyrics), and we watched it take shape over the course of a few years, finally flourishing (with the guidance of director Stephen Brackett and choreographer Chase Brock) into the full production that's lighting up our stage right now.

But with any piece of theater, you're always hoping that it will connect with the audience whose message it's most for. We knew the themes with CHILL were universal - who hasn't felt unsure about who they were and wished for a magical path towards social ease and status? - but we felt especially like the show would resonate with teenagers, who were actively experiencing the struggles portrayed in the show. 

Luckily, we had a stellar group of high school interns (whom we called the "SQUIP Squad") who immediately connected to BE MORE CHILL and loved the show as much as we did. One of them, Myles Columbo, wrote this piece about the show. Like Myles himself it is thoughtful, smart, and full of heart. We couldn't wait to share it with you. 

Myles Columbo

Right now, there are two main ways that the media treats teenagers. We’re either big inappropriate kids or small irresponsible adults. And we’re always self-absorbed, apathetic, and technology-obsessed. But honestly, teenagers are our own thing. We have our own forms of communication and attitudes about the world, which most forms of media don’t want to tackle. So when Two River Theater advertised its new musical, BE MORE CHILL, as a story about teenagers, I was a little skeptical. Then I actually watched the show, and I saw a shockingly accurate look at my life. It didn’t shy away from the weird things my peers and I do and say and think. It didn’t try to clean up the mess of life as a teenager. BE MORE CHILL still surprises me with its honesty and fearlessness, and I’ve seen it three more times since then. The story is science fiction but relatable. It’s about a high school junior named Jeremy Heere. He finds out about a supercomputer called a SQUIP that would help him through every situation in his life if he just swallows it. A SQUIP would remove all Jeremy’s self-doubt and needless fear. Honestly, it sounds too good to be true. Who wouldn’t want that at least a little? Humans live in perpetual states of discovering ourselves, and it’s hard to be confident as a teenager. It feels like everyone around you already knows who they are. Jeremy certainly feels that way.

BE MORE CHILL is the story of an “average teenager.” That by itself is a surprisingly common trope, but Jeremy didn’t make me want to roll my eyes or bang my head against the wall. Jeremy Heere actually is an average teenager, because average doesn’t mean “purposely vague so you can insert yourself into the story.” He’s not some cookie-cutter protagonist. He’s a human being with complicated opinions, feelings, and relationships. And you see yourself in him anyway. That’s something I think adults forget: the stories of teenagers are the stories of adults too. Teenagers may not be adults yet, but we have the same kinds of emotions and problems. We all live in the same world and are just trying to get through it together. Joe Iconis, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show, said in an interview in American Theatre Magazine, “When you’re an adult you’re better at hiding the fact that these things feel so huge—but when you’re kid you wear it on your sleeves, because you don’t know how to cover it up.” BE MORE CHILL reminds adults of that. I’ve brought people between the ages of 15 to 75 to see this show, and every one of them has seen themselves in it. It’s resonated with my peers, my parents, and my grandparents because everyone was a teenager. High school has always been a place of clashing personalities and gaining independence. And an experience like that isn’t easily forgotten. Just like this show. It reminds us of what “human” means by showing the unrestrained humanity of the very young. It makes both Jeremy and the audience really look at some tough questions about what makes us who we are. It does it in a way that made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt and has me humming the songs pretty much every waking moment of the day. BE MORE CHILL is a show that’s both enjoyable and important. Teenagers: you’ll see yourselves onstage in a way you may never have before. Adults: you’ll see yourself as you were as a teen, and you might understand the teenagers in your life better. It, in a good way, brings out the teenager in everyone.

This show is about teenagers. But it’s for everyone.

Myles Columbo is a senior at Biotech High School and a member of the “Squip Squad” at Two River Theater, where Be More Chill is having its world premiere through June 28.

Myles observing a film shoot
Myles & Squip Squadders at work!

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