Choreographer Chase Brock is making his London debut with the UK transfer of sci-fi musical Be More Chill, which is running at the Other Palace in London. He talks to Giverny Masso about the differences between working in the US and the UK and his dance company, the Chase Brock Experience…
What can you tell me about Be More Chill?
It is the story of a high-school loser who hears about a pill that contains a Japanese super computer. The computer shows him how to be cool and completely changes his life. It asks: at what cost do you want to become cool, or can you get to a place of personal actualisation that’s more authentic? There are other musicals that take place in high-school settings, but we really tell the truth about depression and loneliness. The author of the book on which the play is based, Ned Vizzini, wrote about his own struggles with depression and he very sadly took his own life before the musical ever opened. I feel really honoured that we’re able to take his characters forward.
How has the London version of the play evolved?
It is the most sleek. When we do high-school stories on stage in the US, we’re very comfortable casting 25 or 30 year olds, but in the UK it’s more common to cast 19 and 20-year-old actors, and that’s what we’ve done with Be More Chill. Casting people who are so much closer to their age really raises the emotional value and dramatic stakes in a thrilling way, and it affects every bit of the choreography.
Are there any other big differences between working in the UK and US?
New York has such a large talent pool, but it is segmented into things like people who specialise in ensemble and principal actors. In London, there’s a smaller talent pool but everyone who auditioned just seemed like: ‘We’re going to sing, dance, act, we’ll do it all.’ I have been so happy with the London experience because the dancing is stronger than it’s ever been, and part of it is the well-roundedness of the British theatre community.
Tell me about your own company, the Chase Brock Experience?
We’re a 13-year-old company. We do evening-length narrative pieces. I think that’s more common in the UK, partly because Matthew Bourne and New Adventures have really set the standard for that kind of work. In the US there’s more of a divide between theatre dance and concert dance; in theatre we tell stories and in concert dance we do a lot of impressive kicking and turning. My company has been a response to that because I love both worlds. In our latest piece [The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes] we wanted to do a binge-worthy Netflix thriller on stage. Next week I’m going into residency to develop our next piece, which will be the only autobiographical work I’ve made for my company. It deals with my family’s drive-in restaurant in western North Carolina in the 1960s.
What is your advice for aspiring choreographers?
I’ve seen the unbelievable kindness and generosity of dancers. Everyone has resources, but we don’t see them as resources. In your dance class there are seven people who, if you said: “Does anybody have two hours to be in a dance?”, they would come. There’s never been a better time to create choreography for free: film it on your iPhone, post it on YouTube and you’ve got proof that you’re a choreographer.
Be More Chill was due to run at the Other Palace, London until June 14, but is temporarily suspended as a result of the coronavirus outbreak