On a very hot weekend, Selma Arts Center offers a highly anticipated ‘Chill’
The most surprising opening of the summer theater season is upon us. Selma Arts Center nabbed the rights to “Be More Chill” even as the off-Broadway title announced a move to Broadway. For a couple of weekends, then, you can see this brand new Broadway show in New York or Selma. That’s almost unheard of.
“Be More Chill” opens Friday, July 19.
I checked in with director Miguel Gastelum to talk about the show. Also, be sure to watch the clip from my July CMAC show that I’ve embedded below. I went behind-the-scenes at the “Be More Chill” photo shoot for interviews.
Q: Give us a brief rundown on the plot.
A: “Be More Chill” is a pop-rock musical by Joe Iconis. It focuses on a high school misfit, Jeremy Heere. Jeremy is not a “cool guy.” He’s just trying to scrape by the best he can. He learns about a pill he can take — with the help of Mountain Dew — to improve his social standing and overall chill-ness. The SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor) is a super computer that implants itself in Jeremy’s brain and tells him what to do. As the show progresses, we learn that the SQUIP has more cynical plans in mind for young Jeremy. “Be More Chill” deals with some heavy hitting topics — depression, anxiety, and drug abuse — in a way that has resonated on a profound level with young adults.
Q: What is key in terms of playing the character of Jeremy? What does Ian Jones bring to the role?
A: Jeremy is a role that can very easily slip into an over dramatic pity party. It is important that the actor playing this role is able to bring a realistic sensibility to the character and not turn him into a crude hyperbolized version of a high school outcast. I cast Ian because of his fantastic ability to bring nuance and warmth to the characters he portrays. I’ve had the opportunity to watch him on stage at Fresno State, and I have always been impressed with his skill as an actor. He is specific, honest, endearing, and incredibly charming. You want to root for him. He makes Jeremy real, someone that anyone who has never quite fit in can easily relate to. He is the heart of this show, and, boy, does he put his heart out on that stage.
Q: I just saw the movie “Always Be My Maybe” and laughed at the Keanu Reeves cameo. Does it seem like Keanu (who personifies the computer in Jeremy’s brain) is everywhere these days?
A: Yes! It’s incredibly good timing that Keanu has become such a meme lately. He’s always been the epitome of cool and having him so present in the zeitgeist only helps reinforce his rightful embodiment of “chill” in Jeremy’s mind.
Q: “Be More Chill” is about a guy who isn’t just unpopular, he’s a misfit. Think back to your own high school days. Was there a person like Jeremy you remember? Do you ever feel guilty for not being a little nicer?
A: Yes, me! I was a high school band geek who did community theater on the side. What’s funny is that I never felt like an outcast at school, because I loved performing in any capacity and surrounded myself with like-minded people. However, I’ve always felt like the black sheep in my family. I come from a long line of soccer players, something that never interested me. But I tried so incredibly hard to fit in with my family, I even played soccer for a year or two! I feel guilty for not loving myself more and allowing myself to pursue my interests with full reckless abandon sooner.
Q: Give us a glimpse into this week for you. You’re going through tech and final rehearsals, right? How much are you sleeping? Do you dream about the show? What are you worrying about most?
A: Yes, we are halfway into tech week right now. I am currently laying in bed at 2 a.m. as I write this after spending 13 hours at the theater, and my alarm is set to be up and in Selma by 10 a.m. Sleep is a rare commodity these days, especially because I get home so late and can’t turn my brain off for at least a couple of hours. When I do sleep, I absolutely dream about the show — some good ones, but mostly nightmares. Ha!
My biggest worry currently is making sure that all the technical elements of the show come together seamlessly. On the surface the show seems simple enough, but it is indeed a full fledged musical. We have projections, a live band, dozens of quick changes, and of course lights and sound. Our set also includes over a dozen pieces; lockers, doors, and a bathtub- to name a few- and working out the transitions is also a challenge. Luckily, I have a fantastic team of creatives, stage managers, designers, musicians, and crew members to help make sure it all comes together flawlessly.
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Q: I was really surprised when I learned that “Be More Chill” is closing on Broadway very soon after opening. Were you surprised, too? What do you think happened?
I’m not too surprised. “Be More Chill” was never meant to go to Broadway. The intense love of the show by its fans is what got it there. “Be More Chill” premiered in 2015 at Two River Theatre in New Jersey, an original cast album was recorded and it quickly became the highest streamed musical theatre album of all-time with over 250 million streams. This led the show to open Off-Broadway where it had a sold-out run, which then prompted the Broadway move.
I think the musical was no longer financially feasible for its producers because it resonates with young people. Young people who don’t have jobs and can’t afford a $150 broadway ticket. Also, the lack of a Tony win probably didn’t help either.
One thing is for certain, fans of this show love it so immensely that they were able to help get it to Broadway, and that in itself is better than any multi-year run or Tony Award, at least in my opinion.
Q: I’ll keep this short, because I know you’re in director mode. Anything else you want to say?
A: Thank you to everyone who had worked tirelessly to make this Valley premiere a reality. I am so proud of the work this team has accomplished. I hope you’ll come out and take a chance on this little musical that could. The weather outside is hot but we are keeping it extremely chill at the Selma Arts Center.