When you hear “Dungeons and Dragons,” what comes to mind? You probably think of a bunch of nerdy middle schoolers sitting in a basement, one of them wearing a wizard hat, or maybe a cape. A group of Loyola theatre students is attempting to take that stereotype and drive a sword through its gut.
Senior theatre major Kasey Trouba is directing “She Kills Monsters,” written by Qui Nguyen, through Loyola’s Second Stage program, which gives students total agency over the direction, design and management of a theatrical production.
“She Kills Monsters” follows Agnes Evans as she tries to reconnect with her sister Tilly, who died in a car crash three years prior. The only way for Agnes to find closure is through Tilly’s game of “Dungeons and Dragons” — which Agnes has no idea how to play.
One aspect of “She Kills Monsters” that attracted Trouba to the play is its representation of queer people. She said that even though some of the characters are queer, their story lines aren’t about their sexuality.
“We don’t dwell on it. It’s not about them being queer,” Trouba explained. “They’re just queer and that’s who they are.”
Natalie Santoro, a junior theatre major who plays Agnes’ late sister, agreed Tilly’s story doesn’t center on her sexuality, but she appreciated being given the opportunity to play a character whose identity matches her own.
“I don’t get to watch queer characters in TV or film because they don’t generally exist,” Santoro said. “It’s refreshing not only to be able to put more of myself into the role, but to be able to create a character that’s gay and to watch a character that’s gay because I don’t get to do that very often.”
Santoro credited the playwright for writing realistic queer characters and commended Trouba for proposing to direct the play. Santoro said she was grateful that the Loyola theatre faculty gave Trouba the opportunity to take on the project.
“I’m lucky to create something that is put out there that represents gay females,” she said.
In addition to the representation of queer people, Trouba said she appreciates how the nerds in the show aren’t depicted as jokes.
“Nerds aren’t the punchline; they’re celebrated,” she said.
Junior theatre major and “She Kills Monsters” prop designer Spencer Gjerde said he supports the overall sentiment of celebrating everyone’s individuality.
“This show really celebrates nerds being nerds and the good parts of that … parts that give you the freedom to be really excited about things, or the parts that give you the freedom to have creativity,” Gjerde said.
To give the cast members those freedoms, Gjerde led the cast and production team through a game of “Dungeons and Dragons” as part of the rehearsal process. He said that after learning how to play, the students were able to explore their identities within the fantastical world.
“It was really cool to see what people’s ideal self was in that context,” he said.
Trouba said “She Kills Monsters” allows the audience to become absorbed in an environment they might not have experienced before.
“There’s so much stuff happening in the world that I sometimes think it’s really nice to go see a play where you can just forget all of that and immerse yourself in a really cool thing, and have fun, and maybe you cry a little bit,” Trouba said. “It’s a little cathartic.”
Even though she works with a talented group of students to explore the themes of the play, directing the show hasn’t been easy for Trouba. She said there are a lot of technical challenges in the script, including fantastic monsters and intense sword fights, one of which is with a five-headed dragon. An additional challenge for Trouba was figuring out how to fit that dragon into the Underground Laboratory Theatre, a small black box space with only eight feet between the seats and the stage.
“There’s so much fighting, and you have to see so many monsters,” she said. “When you have a 20-by-40-foot space, half of which has to be taken up by audience, what do you do?”
Trouba said she has relied a lot on her stage manager, junior theatre minor Jenna Meyers, to handle the specifics of the spectacle elements, allowing her to focus more of her time on staging the show.
With so much student input in “She Kills Monsters,” Trouba said it’s gratifying to watch all of the elements of the play form one cohesive production.
“I was afraid costumes would be doing their own thing, props would be doing their own thing, sound would be doing its own thing,” she said. “But I got really lucky, and got really, really talented designers, and cast exactly who I wanted to cast, and it allowed us to create this really cool world.”
“She Kills Monsters” is a difficult show to stage, Trouba said, but she credits her cast and her student design team with helping bring to life her vision of the script and its themes.“It’s a monster of a show,” Trouba said.
“She Kills Monsters” runs Nov. 17-20 in the Underground Laboratory Theatre in the basement of the Mundelein Center. All performances are currently sold out, but you can add yourself to the wait list at the Mundelein front desk or fill out the online form, which can be found at http://artsevents.luc.edu/theatre.