Theatre Connections is the School of Theatre and Dance’s initiative to encourage students across campus to be socially and politically engaged through the arts. As part of this program, we invite Illinois State University faculty and staff to become academic partners in an interdisciplinary collaboration, connecting course material with a School of Theatre and Dance production.
By Qui Nguyen
Directed by Paul Dennhardt
October 27-28 at 7:30 p.m.
October 29 at 2 p.m.
October 31-November 3 at 7:30 p.m.
November 4 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Theatre: Illinois State University Center for Performing Arts Theatre
Box Office: (309) 438-2535
Join us for the opening night (Friday, October 27) of She Kills Monsters! Before and after the show in the CPA Lobby, there will be Registered Student Organizations who represent students who are often the targets of oppressive forces in our country. RSOs, such as Black Student Union and Feminist Lead Activist Movement to Empower, will be taking part to allow us to dig deeper into the themes of the play. We hope to open a dialogue based on the themes of bullying and oppression that are at the heart of the play. Come take part in this, “Night of Light: Illuminating Our World in Times of Darkness” on Friday, October 27 and help us spread the messages of this show throughout the community.
This is a story about two sisters. A story about loss, discovery, and otherness. It is allegorical storytelling on an epic scale. It is an allegory about coming of age in high school, diversity, isolation, disconnection from the mainstream, inclusion, bullying, intolerance, geek culture, social awkwardness, LGBTQ identity, and the need for mythic storytelling in our lives. It celebrates “geek” and 90’s pop culture through the role playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) module discovered by Agnes that was created by her sister, Tilly. It is the journey Agnes embarks on to get to know the sister she never connected to in life. The monsters killed in the D&D world are metaphors for the monsters of the real world: bigotry, bullying, gender & sexual orientation discrimination, fear, indifference, and intolerance.
She Kills Monsters is an important play for our time. Many people have battles that they are fighting in secret. Tilly, a teenager, was fighting her worst battles alone, while those around her were subsumed in their own activities and their technological devices. The play captures the bind that people find themselves in. Human beings need to communicate with one another; they have so much to say, yet no one speaks, and everyone is worried about how their problems will be perceived by others. Tilly was in the closet all her life. Her older sister, Agnes, only finds out about this very important aspect of her sister’s life after her death, through the game of Dungeons & Dragons that Tilly created. Tilly’s fear can be likened to the fear experienced by members of the LGBTQ community after the 49 victims were murdered in the Orlando shooting at the gay nightclub in 2016. This gruesome murder has haunted the LGBTQ community (which obviously Tilly belonged to) and prevented other people from speaking freely to anyone about who they really are. People often live out what society expects of them, rather than revealing their true identity.
Agnes Evans: Played by ISU actor, Johanna Kerber.
Tilly’s much older sister. Average. 24 years old, more than half a decade older than her sister. This is her story. It is an epic hero's journey of discovery, coming into one’s identity as a human being, and redefinition.
Tilly Evans: Played by ISU actor, Spencer Brady.
Agnes’ 16-year-old, deceased sister. A “geek.” Unique where Agnes is average. Bullied and a social outcast at school, but a superhero in the D&D community. A rebel, gay, courageous, romantic, magical, the Paladin, a spell caster. A holy knight crusading for good and order: a social justice warrior.
Chuck: Played by ISU actor, Josh Harris.
A "geek", a "nerd", a “loser.” Grunge rocker roadie. An outcast with the soul of an artist. A Dungeon Master. Curious, effusive, and unfiltered, he impacts and changes lives.
Miles: Played by ISU actor, Tyler Szarabajka.
Agnes’ boyfriend of about three years. A “normal” guy. Into the Smashing Pumpkins, afraid of commitment, jealous, judgmental, and disliked by Tilly and Agnes’ friends. He is changed by Agnes’ adventures and eventually becomes more open-minded, adventurous, and marries Agnes. Also Boss #2: Miles’ Doppelganger.
Lilith: Played by ISU actor, Becky Murphy.
Lilith Morningstar – Demon Queen; leather clad dominatrix. Squad’s muscle. Also a closeted high school student, Tilly’s love interest.
Kaliope: Played by ISU actor, Lauren Hickle.
Kaliope Darkwalker – Dark Elf. A rogue character. Elven super model. Agile, athletic, ass-kicking warrior. Also Kelly, sister to Ronnie. Kelly has cerebral palsy and walks with fore-arm crutches.
Vera: Vera is a high school guidance counselor & Agnes’ best friend. Sassy, smart, opinionated, no nonsense. Also Evil, Also Vera the Beholder, Boss #3, large eyeball monster with teeth.
Steve: The Great Mage (Magic User or Wizard), Steve. Running gag, killed almost every time we see him in the D&D world. Also a lost & confused high school student.
Farrah/Narrator: Played by ISU actor, Angie Milton.
Farrah the Faerie – Boss #1. Possibly flying entrance. Pretty, one of the great guardians of Tiamat. Magical, murderous, malicious, and a bit mad. Narrator – mystical, mysterious, mythic, ethereal.
Orcus: Gay Demon Overlord of the Underworld; Red, horned, bored. Also, Ronnie – straight high school student who is bullied and gay bashed.
Evil Gabbi: Succubus. Winged demon cheerleader monster with sharp teeth, possibly flying role? A bigoted bad girl, high school bully.
Evil Tina: Played by ISU actor, Chloe Szot
Succubus. Winged demon cheerleader monster with sharp teeth, possibly flying role? A bigoted bad girl, high school bully.
5 NPCs: Megan Compton.
Five non-player characters playing the various monsters encountered by our player characters (PCs): Kobolds, Bugbears, Orcs, Ogres, etc.; and Tiamat, the Five-Headed Dragon
Female Swing: Katie Capp, understudy for Tilly, Evil Tina, Evil Gabby, Farrah/Narrator
Female Fight Swing: Anastasia S. Ferguson
In an interview in “Boston Theatre Scene.com,” playwright Qui Nguyen says:
The attraction for me to those stories is that they’re epic. It’s about reaching for something waaay larger than yourself, and as a person and artist…I enjoy stuff like Buffy, which is about saving the world, but is also about high school relationships and growing up…We don’t sell that we are consciously diverse, that we’re tackling issues we think are very important, like inclusion – both in terms of the artists we work with and the subjects we talk about…VC has a very social element to it, and it’s about redefining how people see superheroes…I played D&D for probably about two years, in 7th and 8th grade, and not that frequently because our Dungeon Master Chuck – who Chuck in the play is based on – was often just very annoyed by me…I grew up in a primarily black neighborhood, so if you looked around the table, it is not what you would expect in terms of what D&D players “should” look like. That experience was really important to me…I hope that for some people, their experience with the play is sort of akin to Agnes’ – that they’re eye-roll-y about D&D. I also hope that in the end, we can get to the point where we understand the appeal – to spark curiosity, to try out something new, to play a game that requires storytelling. I want to expand people’s universe. The bigger point is, we’ve all had people in our lives who have passed away. For me, that person was Chuck. He died when I was 29, and he was 30. I’d lost track of him after high school. He’s also the guy who introduced me to the theatre. I owe him a lot, but I never got to tell him how much he meant to my life. And I never got to know him as an adult. That’s why this story is told.
It’s my wish. So, the super cheeseball ending, where we talk about how life is just a bunch of stories, I totally really believe that. Probably more than anything else I’ve ever written. That’s the collection of who I am. This whole pop culture thing, I do it because I think it has the ability to carry that weight.
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Hi, I am Amanda Vander Byl, a third year graduate student pursuing my M.F.A. in Costume Design. I am costuming She Kills Monsters for my thesis project.
The script of She Kills Monsters shifts seamlessly back and forth between two differing worlds; a high school in Athens, Ohio in 1995, and a fantastical realm within a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign created by misfit high school students. Because the story is ultimately about the teens playing D&D, I have approached the costume design by trying to find ways in which the high school world melds with and inspires the fantasy world. While creating the looks for some of the monsters, I have found several ways to repurpose items found in a high school setting to fit into the fantasy realm: football pads will be transformed into monstrous armor, backpacks will become spiked shells, three-ring binders will be turned into wings, etc.
She Kills Monsters is providing me with a challenging, but fun opportunity to craft fantastical costumes for an imagined world, while helping to tell an earnest story about misfit teens, bullying, acceptance, and the importance of imagination. Below is a sneak peek of work done thus far:
[insert] Images showing characters in real world and as they appear in the game...
Designs by Dan Ozminkowski
Black Art Magic: Les Chapeaux Blanc, Magicians
The monsters and special effects in this play seem to suddenly emerge from the students’ imaginations and materialize before our eyes. A sense of magic and intrigue is crucial to this storytelling. Much of our inspiration is derived from the world of ‘Black Art Magic,’ wherein bold shapes and characters appear to float and come to life before our eyes. Narrow corridors of light and careful choreography allow the monsters to instantly appear and vanish from sight…
Playlist and other sound effects for the production can be found on Spotify
Designs by John Stark
She Kills Monsters presents the scene designer with some particularly fun challenges. I mean, how often does one go inside a fantasy game such as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)? But that is what we must do in an imaginative way in the show. The story involves Agnes, who is resides in the “real world” of 1990’s America, where we see her in her sister Tilly’s room, their kitchen, and the high school where she teaches and where Tilly attended. But the world then shifts when Agnes enters a D&D landscape that her deceased sister has titled “New Landia.” By playing the game, Agnes reluctantly discovers her imagination, which allows her to come to terms with the death of her sister.
The world we have planned is placed in “an older high school, somewhere in middle America” and the more open and less defined world of New Landia. It is a fun ride between the two. We will employ sliding units and a spinning set of levels to indicate when we are in each location. All while keeping the playing space open for flying, crazy cheerleaders and massive battles with humans and monsters. And she does indeed kill monsters, but as to which ones, well, you’ll have to come to the show to see how that part of the story unfolds.
Each partnership is unique, based on connections between course content and the themes and content of a performance. Possible outcomes might include the following: