IUP Theater Department: She Kills Monsters

She Kills Monsters is the new show IUP’s Theater in the Grove will perform beginning Thursday, November 5.  

Almost every night this week in Waller Hall, the actors have been perfecting the show, and I decided to sit in on a rehearsal to speak to those involved with the show.

At the beginning of rehearsal, every actor stopped by a black set of drawers to get their rehearsal shoes. Courtney Mandoske, the stage manager of the show, compared notes with the director Dean Michael Hood, and offered a bucket of mints for any takers. The rehearsal started with Hannah Misera using her diverse voice to play the role of the narrator, who rides around on a handless segway.

She Kills Monsters is a play written by Qui Nguyen. The story follows Agnes, who finds her late sister Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons game. She decides to learn how to play the game, and as a result, she begins to understand more about her younger sister. Agnes also learns more about herself as she fights the monsters in the game. In the first scene of the play, the narrator presents the following line in her monologue: “It is a story about how Agnes, the girl who never left home, finally found a way out.” How exciting!

The two keys characters, Agnes and Tilly, are played by sophomore Samantha Nichols and senior Hannah Kate Simon. Nichols first read the script last spring and really connected to Agnes’ character. Her favorite part was Agnes’ willfulness to get into the game and fight. Nichols struggled most with playing an adult, since she still sees herself as young. Simon, who is an SAFD certified combatant, turns into a sword fighting, fifteen year old dreamer when she plays her character. Since Simon’s character is reimagined in the Dungeons and Dragons game, she had to find a connection from the human character and her D&D character, and then understand where to ground her in the story. The weapon Simon uses is a different one than ones she has used before, but she is mastering the grace of the weapon with every rehearsal.

Another star of the play is Amos Glass, who plays Chuck, a high school student and Agnes’s Dungeon Master. Glass told me that the hardest thing for him was to understand what Dungeons and Dragons is, and then knowing what to do once he understood the game. It wasn’t until he started working on the show that he figured out how complex the game was.

The characters are a collection of misfits that come together, because of their similarity in Dungeons and Dragons. I asked Glass what he has learned from this show so far.

“Being nerdy is really beautiful,” he responded.

Another interesting character in She Kills Monsters is Orcus, played by John Kusnir. Orcus is a former Demon Lord of the underworld within the game, who in reality is a homosexual, cheese loving gamer. His nerdy humor adds some comic relief to the show.

Additionally, another source of comic relief is the character Steven, played by Devin Marshall. Steven is an unlucky student, who never seems to be able to get ahead. Marshall’s character in the D&D game is a wizard, who also suffers with a lack of luck that adds some extra humor to the game in the play.

Some other cool characters are played by Ali Walker and Shelbi Fichtner. Together, they play giddy, vampire cheerleaders that are not the type of cheerleaders you would want on your side lines.

Then there is Katie Leonard and Stephanie Clark, who play the sassy friends of Tilly that help the sisters on their monster fighting adventure. Leonard says she finds it fun to play an axe handling warrior and Clark says she enjoys using a bo staff to show of her fierce fighting skills.

With the amount of fighting scenes and skills needed for this show, many hours of practice are required. The training for these scenes comes from Grant Hoogstraten, who is the fight captain, and plays Agnes’s boyfriend Miles in the show. Hoogstraten became interested in combat his freshman year at IUP and loves to share his interest in combat with people.

Another interesting character is Agnes’s best friend Vera, who shows disdain for Miles outside of Tilly's Dungeons and Dragons game. Vera, a high school guidance counselor, is played by Hannah Hughes. Says Hughes about her character, “I think of Vera as Agnes’s soundboard. She comes to the real world and wants to protect Agnes.” 

Of course, the show would not be what it is without the director, Dean Michael Hood. Hood became interested in directing the show after his friend, Michael Chin, had choreographed the fighting scenes for a production of She Kill Monsters performed in New York. Chin also helped Hood with the choreographing of IUP’s production. Hood told me the largest difficultly was working with the different components in the show and putting in the additional scenes they decided to use.

Other unique aspects of this show include the original music, which was composed by IUP’s marching band director Dr. David Martynuik. Additionally, IUP’s Theater Department chair Brian Jones used his skills in puppetry within the show as well.

If you haven't yet been convinced to see She Kills Monsters, maybe all of the hard work that has been put into the production with entice you. Specifically, Hood and the other professors involved in the show conducted a lot of research to ensure a great production. For example, they played a game of Dungeons and Dragons over the summer. Now that is dedication!

This magical cast is comprised of wizards, students, monsters, fighters, a Dungeon Master, a pair of sisters, and a guidance counselor, that are guided by a team of back stage people, sound people, a stage manager, and a director. Even with the hard work that is put into the show, everyone continues to have fun.

“I like to come and play,” said Dean Hood.

In conclusion, She Kills Monsters is a heart filled show that expresses the idea that no matter what people say, you should do what makes you happy.

Opening night is approaching, so do not forget to pick up a ticket!