BE MORE CHILL | Interview
Behind the scenes of TTB’s Broadway adaptation
by Rory Buccheri
Coming back from a two-year hiatus, Treading the Boards Musical Society is coming back with a kick and a punch: in an exclusive interview to the Gaudie, the cast and crew discuss all exciting bits of putting up and starring in the show…and being the Scottish Premiere of a Broadway hit!
I am in conversation with Joel Simpson, the Choreographer for TTB, who made me discover this gem and is here to tell us more about the society and the show itself.
R: First things first, what is the show about?
J: ‘More Than Survive’ – that’s all Jeremy Heere wants from high school. After a strange exchange in the boys bathroom, Jeremy discovers a pill which installs a supercomputer inside the brain, called the ‘SQUIP’. It's better than drugs and promises Jeremy a new life with everything he desires the most. Seems an easy choice, right? But when things take a darker turn, what is Jeremy willing to lose in an effort to Be More Chill?
R: This sounds really exciting – I can see the dramatic potential! For our readers, what does it mean to be the Scottish Premiere of the show?
J: Be More Chill started in an off-Broadway theatre in New York and closed early to its audiences, but as the theatre industry shifted to become more accessible online, it left a trace behind in the form of its Original Cast Recording. From there, Be More Chill was found and it quickly grew a fandom and online presence. Once it was a viral hit, the producers brought it back for a second off-Broadway run, eventually leading to a stint on Broadway before transferring to London’s West End. In fact – it was one of the first shows to start back when theatres were allowed to open to socially distant audiences. The material is brand new – and we are the first company to perform it in Scotland. This of course has its challenges, but it's something we are so excited about, and we wear that badge with honour.
Joel tells me that there is now a movie version in development, and that hopefully the stage production will return at some point soon too.
From this alone, TTB’s project sounds fantastic. But let’s hear what the cast have to say about getting actively involved on stage.
R: What did you enjoy the most about working in this production? And what does it mean for you all to come back on stage?
Ethan Lumsden, playing Jeremy: Having the opportunity to play Jeremy through TTB has been the wildest experience I have ever had, and by far the most fun role I have ever played. What makes this experience most incredible has to be getting to play the lead role in one of my favourite musicals.
Emmah Chibesakunda, playing Christine: Taking part in this show has been such a dream, being able to bring TTB back to the stage again after the pandemic. The cast are all phenomenal and we are all so lucky to be able to have fun together and do so much of what we love each week in preparation for this show. My character, Christine, is fun, quirky and awkward which is an absolute delight to play, and I look forward to bringing her to the stage at the Arts Centre.
Roxi Wilton, playing the SQUIP: I think the message of the show is to stay true to yourself, because no one can be like you like you can. It also highlights the pressures of living in the social media age and how technology can go awry even with the purest of intentions.
Josh Milne, playing Michael: I play Michael, the lovable nerdy best friend of the lead, Jeremy. He loves getting stoned and playing video games. In a musical filled with bullies and characters with ulterior motives, Michael is one of the very few characters in the show which the audience can relate to. Michael has been a dream role of mine since I first listened to ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ a few years ago and immediately, the song was in my top ten favourite musical theatre songs of all time.
It's hard not to be curious, with so many exciting promises made. Ethan Lumsden, playing the lead Jeremy, describes it as ‘the wildest experience’ he’s ever had…And from hearing all this, I can believe that. On more practical matters, I am curious about how the production team handled all of this while in a global pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Dan Stoneman
R: How did the pandemic impact your society in particular? And what did you do to overcome these obstacles?
J: The pandemic has hit the theatre industry massively. Performers and theatre venues have largely gone underfunded and under-represented in the media – and the wonderful venues we normally perform in have been under a lot of strain. Putting on a show is tough anyway, but producing a show taking all of the restrictions and loopholes to jump through into account, it is near impossible. Even finding a rehearsal venue has sometimes been a struggle – we’ve even ended up rehearsing at O'Neill's Irish Pub on Belmont Street and BrewDog!
R: Wow, that genuinely sounds wild. I guess you are presented with challenges every day, but the rewards at the end must make it all worth it.
J: Despite the challenges, I am so happy to be working on this show each week with a stellar cast, committee and the rest of my production team – I’m joined by Hannah Cook as Director and Liam Bowie and Mikey Innes as Musical Director. Weeks ago, we weren't sure if we would get the chance to perform due to the Omicron strain - but we are thrilled to be able to return to the Arts Centre after a two year hiatus, and thank our lucky stars that audiences will indeed get to see the show we’ve worked so hard on.
President of the Society Jade Thomas expresses how after two years of exceptional circumstances, the show is finally hitting the theatre and they are so proud of everything they have managed to achieve. ‘Even though the uncertainty the pandemic brings has been hard to navigate at times, the TTB community that we have built over the last 32 years has come together to make this show what it is today. We could not have done this without the support of the local community and our wonderful cast, and for that we are eternally grateful’.
Gasp! 32 years. These people are really into something great. I ask them about the Society, and how students can get involved.
Abbey Wright, President of the Society: Treading the Boards, affectionately known as TTB, was founded by a group of students at the University of Aberdeen, when they staged their first production of ‘The Boyfriend’ in 1990! For the next 30 years, TTB performed a full-scale production each year, and we celebrated our 30th anniversary with sell-out performances of ‘FAME’. Our 2021 production of Be More Chill was scheduled to be a new chapter for TTB, but unfortunately the world had other ideas. Nothing can hold us back though, and we’re back and raring to go! Two years in the making will hopefully mean double the wow factor of our incredibly talented cast.
TTB renews its team every year at the Annual General Meeting – usually held in March. A new production team and committee are picked and anyone is invited to apply. Shows are held yearly and Auditions are held in September for any new cast members who wish to give it a go! TTB is a warm, friendly and fun society to be involved in and is open to students and non-students alike. Keep an eye on their social media for more information.
TTB’s Be More Chill will run from Wednesday 9th - Saturday 12th February 2022 / 7.30pm / Tickets: Standard £17 – Concessions £15
Book your tickets here: www.aberdeenartscentre.com/ttb