Art by Eric Stone
Agnes never really understood her nerdy younger sister. A year after Tilly passes away, Agnes finds her ‘D&D’ notebook and is catapulted into an action-packed role-playing adventure in the imaginary world of her sister’s refuge. Battling demonic cheerleaders and terrifying shapeshifting blobs, Agnes comes to realise how Tilly saw herself, her sexuality, and the world around her.
Produced by Monash Uni Student Theatre (MUST) and written by Qui Nguyen, ‘She Kills Monsters’ is a heartfelt homage to 90s pop culture, and the nerd within us all. Using original puppetry, tongue-in-cheek stage combat, and more than a subtle nod to cosplay, in this show, fantasy and reality collide before our eyes.
We talked with director Gemma Livingstone about bringing this incredible show to the stage.
What drew you to this show?
Gemma Livingstone: Late last year, I went looking for a show to pitch for Monash Uni Student Theatre and I found this on a website under the list “usual shows for high schools”. Not that anyone involved in the school is a high schooler but I was still intrigued. The synopsis talked about ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and sold it as this silly spoofy show, which I loved the sound of, but then when I actually went and read the script it also had this really beautiful story about dealing with grief and the idea of creating a better world to live in.
I have been playing ‘D&D’ for about 3 years now, so not very long but I started during the lockdowns and it quickly became a new obsession. I think in 2021 I listened to over 60 hours of actual play podcasts; “actual play” meaning where people record their campaigns and release them for people to listen/watch. So, a story about D&D that’s funny but also moving is right up my alley.
There’s a scene midway through the show that when I read it for the first time I knew that this story was worth telling. I remember actually getting shivers. But also there are sexy demon slayers and dragons and sword fights so what’s not to love.
What’s your vision for this show?
GL: I love the idea of theatre feeling like this magical experience. The excitement when something cool happens on stage and you are left thinking “how did they do that?” Theatre is special because it happens in a certain location at a certain time with specific people, even if everyone comes back to see/do the show again the next night, no two shows will ever be the same. That’s why I love theatre. You can create beautiful movies that are moving and witty but it doesn’t leave the same feeling of awe you might get in a theatre. So that is kinda the vision, in the sense that, that is my philosophy towards directing. But also I hope that people come see this show and can see themselves in the story. So much of what ‘She Kills Monsters’ is about is not fitting in and trying to find your way in this world, and I hope that resonates with people…and maybe also that they have a good time and that we can make you laugh and cry all within the same night.
What are you most excited for audiences to see?
GL: Probably the monsters and the fight scenes. Crafting the magic moments in the ‘D&D’ world has been a real collaboration between all the different designers, actors and directors (myself and my assistant director, Emma). In particular Pat, our sound designer, has composed so many unique songs for each of these scenes that give them all fun cool flavours. We have also worked with a prop maker who has designed and made the different weapons; our costume designer is bringing to life some classic ‘D&D’ monsters. And without revealing too much we have a 3 person puppetry team making some fantastic puppets, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise so will leave it there.
What is the best part of working with this cast/crew?
GL: Probably everyone’s passion for this story and commitment to having fun throughout this process. It was really important to me that this be a fun and enjoyable process as we are a team of volunteers essentially. Without a doubt throughout this entire process, everyone from cast to crew has been so kind to one another, and willing to be silly and “play”. Even in auditions, everyone we met was so engaged with the material which has been a rather heartwarming experience. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have so many people excited about a silly little play you found a year ago.
What makes ‘D&D’ a good avenue to explore identity?
GL: ‘D&D’ is all about playing fun characters and going on adventures, it is collective storytelling and play. There may be some ‘D&D’ purists out there who might correct me, but ‘D&D’ is totally what you make of it, it’s just a set of rules (known as a gaming system) to allow you to play make-believe. I think ‘D&D’ gets a rep sometimes because it’s beloved by nerds and requires fancy dice, that it’s this crazy complicated numbers game (which sometimes it can be) but it’s mostly you sitting with a group of friends talking and imagining things together. It’s really about community, and what better way to explore identity than with your community? Not to mention when you make a character sheet you get to define all these silly little traits for your character, like what weapon they use, or whether they are stronger or more cunning etc. It’s like video games where you get to design your avatar, it’s just fun!
As part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival and the Melbourne International Games Week, ‘She Kills Monsters’ will run from Thursday October 5th to Saturday 7th of October, and Tuesday 10th of October to Saturday 14th of October at the MUST theatre, with our sensory friendly performance running Wednesday 11th of October. Show off your best cosplay skills and join us for our costume competition night and creatives’ Q&A on Tuesday 10th of October.