'It's thrilling to be able to bring this to people': the world premiere of 'Selfie! The Musical'
I first spoke with Bonnie Cullum and Rembert Block about their upcoming show Selfie! The Musical way back in February of 2020, or what some folks call “the before times,” when we were all a little bit younger and a lot more unaware of what this new “Covid-19” thing was going to do to the world. Selfie! was set to make its world premiere at the Vortex on March 26, 2020, and of course that performance never happened.
But now, after a two-year break, Selfie! is once again on the Vortex stage, with its premiere now scheduled for April 1 of this year. Is it tempting fate a bit to schedule such a long-delayed show opening for April Fools’ Day? Perhaps. But Cullum and Block don’t seem too concerned about that. They’re both just thrilled to finally put the musical in front of a live audience.
“The show was pretty much ready [in March 2020],” director Cullum says. “And that’s the thing. That was the real heartbreak: [that] we had all worked so hard on it. And we were ready to put it together – the set was built, the costumes were made. You know, everything was kind of ready. So that was very, very painful to let that go.”
“We had rescheduled it a few other times in between, and then it was always kind of, you know, nope… nope… not yet… not now,” says Block, who wrote Selfie! and performs the show’s music with her band The Basic Goodness. “And now it really, finally feels real. It’s such a thrill. It’s still alive!”
“And I think by having this kind of two-year wait, it makes us all really hungry and excited to share this work with everybody,” Cullum says. “I feel like the experience is richer and fuller and that people have a lot more commitment and dedication to why we’re doing this. Because we haven’t gotten to do it. We haven’t been able to do our work. And so it’s thrilling to be able to bring this to people.”
Selfie! is centered around four people who have accidentally ended their own lives while attempting a tricky shot for social media. “And they end up getting kind of scooped up by the curious gods who are seeing this epidemic of selfie-cides,” Block explains. “And they want to know more; they want to investigate and they want to help these humans sort of reflect on how this has happened to them and why. And it kind of gets into a big look at how we present ourselves to the world, how we manufacture those self-images and then how are we able to actually find a way to authentically see ourselves, and out of that self, [to] connect with other people. And that’s the journey.”
Block says she was moved to write the musical after reading some articles about real-world selfie-related accidents. “They were absurd and tragic and also somehow seemed like a metaphor for something important that I wanted to investigate,” she says. “It did seem like some kind of metaphor for how we get separated from ourselves while trying to look at ourselves and present ourselves. And then we kill ourselves off in the process. And that seemed like an image that was really rich to explore.”
“The thing I love about Selfie! is the self-referential way that it is a piece of theater that is commenting on itself,” Cullum says. “So it has this amazing style where it keeps breaking out of its mold and pointing at itself and saying ‘yes, we’re really doing this.’”
After a two-year break from directing live theater, Cullum says she knows exactly how she’s going to react to seeing a full audience at the Vortex when Selfie! opens on April 1. “I’m gonna cry,” she says. “I mean, real honestly. I’m… you know, I’m just so moved to be working on the show that every night as I leave rehearsal with my heart filled up again, I know that it’s the sharing of this work with the people, with the public, with the people who are going to benefit from it that really is the true value. So as much as we’re getting out of it as artists, it’s the sharing experience with the audience that’s… why we’re doing it.”