“The SQUIPs are coming” is a phrase I initially did not understand but saw everywhere on social media. What is a SQUIP? Who is a SQUIP? Why are they coming? Where are they coming from? Most importantly, why does everyone seem to care?
The SQUIPs (super quantum unit intel processors) are central to the storyline of the sci-fi musical “Be More Chill.” The show follows high school geek Jeremy Heere, who takes a pill that implants a SQUIP into his brain and instructs him on how to … be more chill.
The story of the show’s journey to Broadway is a perfect illustration of why social media matters for Broadway. In 2015, the musical premiered at the Two River Theater in New Jersey. After a four-week run and a cast album recording, the crew patted themselves on the back for a job well done. But in the three years that followed, the internet discovered the cast album and grew to love the story. Animated music videos were posted on YouTube, Instagram fan accounts were created and messages of support were tweeted. The outpouring of love for the show was so strong that it launched a sold-out off-Broadway run during summer 2018. Then, on Feb. 13, “Be More Chill” opened for previews in the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway.
This is not the only production that has a strong digital following. Current shows such as “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Mean Girls” and “The Prom” are geared towards younger audiences. But Broadway theaters continue to be filled with older audiences. The Broadway League reported that the average age of Broadway attendees in the 2017-2018 season was 40.6 years old. The reasons why are not hard to determine. Broadway has long been fighting the misconception that it’s for the elite and stuffy. And — put simply — it’s expensive.
Social media provides opportunities to connect with these shows despite not being physically able to see them.
“Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of an outcast high schooler trying to fit in. It has 439,000 Instagram followers and 151,000 Twitter followers.
“Mean Girls” is an adaptation of the popular movie based on high school cliques and popularity. It has 182,000 Instagram followers and 30,300 Twitter followers.
“The Prom” shares the story of a high schooler who refuses to take no for an answer when she is told she cannot bring her girlfriend to the dance. It has 33,800 Instagram followers and 4,600 Twitter followers.
Broadway newcomer “Be More Chill” brings 132,000 Instagram followers and 21,800 Twitter followers with it already. These stories are resonating with younger audiences, and the online communities are proof of it.
These social accounts post behind-the-scenes footage, backstage antics, informal cast interviews and more. I had little intention of seeing “Mean Girls” when it first began, but now, after watching its Broadway.com backstage video blog series on YouTube and engaging with its online content, I am frequently scouring the internet for available tickets. When the “Mean Girls” Twitter account liked my tweet and the “Be More Chill” Twitter responded to my posts about its opening, I felt like I was a part of something. These interactions made me feel like my voice meant something and was considered important.
Some argue that live theater has always been a fleeting experience and should stay that way. Part of what makes it so special are the human interactions between casts and audiences that differentiate live performances from other forms of entertainment. Social media diminishes these special, in-person moments by allowing constant access to the stories and performers.
Even so, while social media is changing the way theater is consumed, it is doing so in a positive way. The social followers of today are the paying attendees of the future. By connecting with shows, composers, performers and others online, Broadway fan bases are younger and stronger than ever. Broadway is currently in an uncharted era of mainstream popularity with both financial success and a quickly growing reputation.
For an entertainment institution that has spanned centuries, change may seem daunting, but change is necessary for future success. Social media is that change for Broadway shows as it allows for new and growing connections to form. For this fan in particular, I will continue tweeting my support for “Be More Chill” and its neighbors until I can walk through the bright lights of Broadway and sit in its historic theaters.