"Being a teenager is literally learning how to be a good person by doing the wrong thing most of the time," says Cori Anne Laemmel, artistic director of The Theater Bug. Art certainly imitates life in the company's current production of Selfie the Musical
, running July 21 - 30.
This original production — with book and lyrics by Laemmel and music by Eric Fritsch — features two rotating youth casts telling stories about what it's like to be a kid growing up in the social media age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and beyond.
"I was talking to a parent a while back who pointed out that this generation of teenagers is really the first to grow up on social media. You know, we had a taste of it, but for the most part we were older. These kids have literally grown up on it," says Laemmel, adding that it's also a crazy scenario for parents who are raising kids in this era who don't know life without technology in their hands at all times. "There's no point of reference. You can't call your mom or your friends and say, 'What did you do when ...?' because nobody's done it before."
[caption id="attachment_68624" align="alignright" width="240"]
Carly Pike as "Marla" in Selfie the Musical. Photo by Anthony Matula.[/caption]
That reality is the source of Laemmel's inspiration in creating this new musical. Staying true to The Theater Bug's trademark of presenting original works relevant to what's happening in kids' lives in modern times, Selfie the Musical
covers a lot of current ground.
"The analogy we use in the show is at one point you were in the sandbox, and the rules were, 'Don't eat the sand; don't smash each other over the head with your dump truck; say I'm sorry,' those kinds of things. Now it's like these kids are in this giant desert and all their friends are there all the time, and all their mistakes are public — and permanent — and they have to be so much more aware," Laemmel says.
Several themes and subplots are woven throughout the musical, from a broader stroke of what being a teenager looks like in the present worlds of the Internet and social media — dating, friendships, bullying and beyond — to what it's like from a 6-year-old's perspective. "Because there are young kids in the cast, we have a song that's all about them growing up with their parents taking all these pictures of them as little kids online, and the embarrassment that 'this picture is gonna show up in my middle school yearbook!'" Laemmel laughs.
One of the secondary storylines in the show is based on a true story of a high-school student in White House, Tenn., who was the target of cruelty over trying to sell her junior prom dress online in order to afford her senior prom dress. "She was viciously attacked for her weight, her looks, she was picked apart," Laemmel says. "But another girl from her school reposted the photo and said, 'I think she's beautiful. Share if you think she's beautiful, too.' It went viral, wound up on Buzzfeed and was shared more than 100,000 times. Then someone started a Go Fund Me to get her a senior prom dress, so what started out as an ugly bullying situation actually turned out to be something really beautiful," Laemmel adds.
includes important themes of love, kindness and forgiveness, and part of Laemmel's intent is for the show to serve as a time capsule for today while emphasizing the show isn't making a statement that the online world is evil. "It can be used for good or bad. The bottom line is about kindness and choosing things out of love, and if you're not making choices that come from love or kindness, they're still the wrong choices whether or not they're online," Laemmel says.
IF YOU GO
Selfie the Musical
July 21 - 30; All ages
The Theater Bug
4809 Gallatin Pike, Nashville
Showtimes: Thu - Fri 7 p.m., Sat 2 & 7 p.m.
Tickets: $10 online, $12 at the door
Online tickets available at ticketsnashville.com