Here be dragons in ‘She Kills Monsters’

In a world where imagination is dwindling, role-playing games such as “Dungeons & Dragons” offer gaming enthusiasts a chance to escape reality and battle monsters, use magic and perfect their combat skills. The theatre department at Sonoma State has decided to explore the world of D&D with their upcoming production of “She Kills Monsters.”

The play, originally written by Qui Nguyen and published by Samuel French Inc., incorporates a comedic storyline with the dramatic aspects of D&D. Paul Draper and other members of the theatre department came together to discuss the production of this play at SSU.

“When we decide on a play, many factors come into play. We have to think about the students we have in the theatre department; their strengths and their weaknesses,” said Draper. 

“The characters and themes of this play are completely relevant for college-aged students. Role play is extremely popular right now and important to a lot of people on campus. Why not connect with students in this way and figure out what this world [of D&D] is about.”

The theatre department has put a lot of preparation into the task of recreating a world existing as a board game. Specifically the task of creating an epic battle scene between the main characters named Agnes, played by SSU theatre student Ashlyn Kelley and the game’s dragon, Tiamat, who is no ordinary theatre dragon.

In fact, she is a five-headed dragon with giant wings and a wicked tail standing at a mere 15-feet tall, to be controlled by eight theatre students. The puppet, constructed from materials such as foam, cheesecloth, latex and all sorts of fabric, will be the largest puppet ever manned in a SSU theatre production.

Mary Nagler, brought in as a puppet consultant specifically for this production, has been helping with the construction of Tiamat, as well as advising the students involved in how to control such a large puppet.

“The puppet will be controlled by eight people. That means eight different individuals, all with different strengths and weaknesses have to learn to move as one being,” said Nagler. “They have to learn how to balance the weight [of the dragon], open and close her mouth and turn the eye lights on and off.”

Nagler, who received her master’s in puppetry at the University of Connecticut and has been a professional puppeteer since 1971, will work with the students to perfect their puppetry until the day before opening night.

The production will also feature other monsters such as bugbears and lizards, as well as a large gelatinous cube rolling around in a dungeon with the power to electrocute the players.

To make the production even more realistic, John Sullins, SSU associate professor of philosophy, fight choreographer and D&D master, has been helping the actors with their fighting techniques, especially for the anticipated fight scene between lead role Agnes and the main attraction Tiamat.

“I have never played the game [D&D] and when it came out I remember hearing parents say they were scared their kids would lose themselves in a fictitious game,” said Nagler. “The students have worked very hard with the puppetry and choreographed fighting to make this production realistic and I believe many students will be interested to see it. I plan on sitting right in the front row on opening night.”

While the theatre department has previously had a Chinese dragon on stage in their production of “The Monkey King,” Draper explained this production will be one to remember.

“Tiamat has been a very challenging task,” said Draper. “We have stuck eight different personalities together with eight different rhythms and challenged them to move as one being. I don’t want to give too much away, but it will definitely be worth it to come see the show.”

The production of “She Kills Monsters” will be presented on March 5 to March 8 and again from March 26 to March 29 in Studio 119 of Ives Hall.

While there is a risk in recreating a world created solely by imagination, the theatre department strives to connect the audience to a world where dungeons and dragons really do exist.