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These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

Charlotte teens put high school anxiety on stage in 'Be More Chill'

The teenage cast of "Be More Chill" rehearses at the Cain Center for the Arts in Cornelius on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.
Nick de la Canal
The all-teen cast of "Be More Chill" rehearses at the Cain Center for the Arts in Cornelius on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.

In most high school musicals, students play older characters — think "Fiddler on the Roof," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Beauty and the Beast."

That usually means the young actors aren’t drawing from their own experiences, unless they’ve transformed into a dancing plate, or cared for a blood-sucking plant.

That’s not the case for a group of teen actors opening a show in Cornelius this Friday called “Be More Chill.”

The Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis, is set in the halls of a typical high school. A "loser" kid named Jeremy learns about a pill that makes you cool, popular, and “more chill.”

The characters call it a SQUIP — or a "Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor." It’s a tiny computer that implants a voice into your brain that tells you what to do and what to say.

For Garrett McIntyre, who plays Jeremy, it’s a tempting premise. A few weeks ago he recalls being at a swim competition and catching himself wishing for such a pill.

"I was like, you know what would be funny? If I took a SQUIP right now and then I swam a 42-(second) 100m freestyle, and I went to the Olympics. But SQUIPS are fictional," he said with a sigh.

"For now," his costar, Conner Cooper, added.

Of course, with the advent of ChatGPT, and Elon Musk’s company recently implanting a computer chip in a person’s brain, who knows what the future may hold?

'It's just like how we talk'

Director Melissa Ohlman-Roberge first read the script with students at Community School of Davidson last summer.

"And they were like, 'Oh we love this script.' Blah blah. And I said, 'What do you love about it?' And they were like, 'It’s just like we talk. It sounds so much like us,'" she said. 

The show has generous profanity and references to masturbation, drinking and smoking — all things that are a part of teenage life, but could make parents and administrators squirm.

So this production at the Cain Center for the Arts is not sanctioned by any school. High schoolers from across Charlotte auditioned, and many say the show feels personal.

That includes 16-year-old Trulyn Rhinehardt, who plays the love interest, Christine.

"She has this line that I love in Act II where she says, 'Well, I can’t go out with you because I don’t even know who I am yet, and I can’t go out with you until I know who I am,'" said Rhinehardt.

She said the line hits close to home, because she often feels as though she's still discovering herself.

"Sometimes I’m like, 'Oh yeah!' and then something happens and life happens and you’re like, wait this is something — a part of me that I’ve never known about before. And I think people discover new things about themselves everyday and are consistently growing," she said.

Isolation, anxiety and learning by experience

In another part of the show, Conner Cooper, who plays Jeremy’s best friend Michael, sings a soliloquy while hiding in the bathroom at a high school party.

The song, titled "Michael in the Bathroom," takes the audience through Michael's feelings of anxiety and isolation — difficult but universal feelings that still have to be dealt with, Cooper said.

"Being best friends, you kind of form a co-dependence on each other. And throughout the show I think Michael kind of learns the harsh reality that sometimes you gotta be on your own, because you’re not always going to have that friend," he said.

Griffin Small, who plays the voice of the supercomputer, said working on the show has stirred memories of times he didn’t know what to say or do.

"I can recall so many moments in my life where I had so much going on. So many different situations. I had people who were mad at me, people I was upset with, and I had no idea how to navigate that," he said.

Sure, implanting AI into his brain could have helped, he said.

"But I’m so glad I didn’t, because through those experiences, you gain life experience and you learn how to navigate it yourself. You don’t need someone else to do it for you," Small said.

And sometimes the most chill thing people can do is to simply be themselves.

“Be More Chill” runs Friday through Saturday at the Cain Center in Cornelius.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal