By Lou Wharton
Blog Content Contributor
Texas State’s very own theater department is bringing Dungeons and Dragons to the stage with their upcoming performance of “She Kills Monsters,” a play by Qui Nguyen.
When asked what the play was about, director Jerry Ruiz said, “‘She Kills Monsters’ by Qui Nguyen takes place in 1994 and is about a young woman named Agnes, who starts playing Dungeons and Dragons after finding an adventure module left behind by her late younger sister, Tilly. Going on this adventure allows Agnes to grieve and get to know her sister, who she wasn’t close to, given their age difference. She learns a lot about Tilly and the challenges she faced as a result.”
I spoke to Hatlyn Barricklow, who plays Anges, Karina Bozanich, who plays Tilly, Llailan Bennet, who plays Chuck, Elisa Pedraza Sanchez, who plays Lilith, Meagan Majors, who plays Kaliope, Delan Crawford, who plays Orcus, as well as stage manager Oscar Huff, assistant director Sam Garcia and scenic designer Michael Gault to learn more about the play and the production process.
Lou: What is something you have in common with the character you play?
Hatlyn: Agnes and I are both completely clueless when it comes to fighting! At the beginning of the rehearsal process, I had no D&D knowledge whatsoever and while I had taken stage combat, I had never wielded a sword. I have been learning alongside Agnes on how to navigate the D&D world and handle myself in huge battles. While I am certainly still no expert, it has been fulfilling to experience my own growth as a campaign member while Agnes discovers her own place in the world.
Karina: As a younger sister I see a lot of myself in Tilly. Also, just like Tilly, I am queer and a bit of a geek, so it has been fun to let all of that fuel my character building.
Llailan: Chuck and I are both pretty erratic characters, but we truly always have good intentions. Plus, I always wear headphones and listen to music most of the time.
Elisa: We both like purple, we can be sarcastic at times, and secretly, we have a big heart.
Meagan: Something in common I have with Kaliope is the comfort she desires to offer people.
Delan: I have a lot in common with Orcus. We both love watching television and have a reputation for being slackers.
Lou: Aside from the one you play, which character is your favorite and why?
Hatlyn: Chuck is an absolute sweetie! Agnes asks him for help navigating Tilly’s module, and he immediately jumps into the game despite having no prior relationship with Agnes. As a Dungeon Master, he has a real appreciation for Tilly’s level of worldbuilding and approaches the adventure with such cheer and positivity. He has the sweetest boyish charm about him and ends up being a huge support system for Agnes throughout the play.
Karina: I love Orcus so much. He’s often used as the comic relief, but the character is authentic, and I think many of us could recognize someone like him from our lives. Not to mention that he has some of the funniest lines in the show.
Llailan: My favorite character would have to be Steve, because he is always there right when you need to make a point.
Elisa: I would love to play Evil Tina or Evil Gabby. They are both so fun and never fail to make a grand entrance.
Meagan: My favorite is Steve, because he never quits.
Delan: My favorite character other than Orcus is probably Kaliope, who is an emotionally detached dark elf supermodel.
Lou: For the crew, what was it like working on this show in particular?
Jerry: There are many exciting elements in this play, including a lot of stage combat, incredible costumes, set pieces and props. Unique characters such as demons, demon queens, elves and fairies. That makes it unlike a lot of plays. The story moves back and forth between scenes set in the real world and scenes taking place in the imaginary realm of Dungeons and Dragons. The play is popular and frequently produced at universities and high schools. I think partially because it poses exciting creative challenges and great opportunities for actors, designers and technicians.
Oscar: What separates this show from any show I’ve worked on before has been it being simply a Dungeons and Dragons focused show.
Michael: Working on this show has been like a dream that I don’t want to end. The story specifically holds a special place in my heart, especially with the show being about siblings. Having two sisters myself has made me think of them constantly while designing this show. Also, the genre of high fantasy is so effective at making such deep personal themes feel larger than life. Compared to my past shows, this production is not as dark or serious. Luckily, this makes the audience viewing experience that much better. Sometimes we need a fun story like this that we can escape into but still shed a tear at the end.
Lou: What sort of research did you do on D&D to prepare for this show?
Sam: I personally have been on a couple of D&D campaigns, but it required a little more digging to get the specifics of a few things. One of the things that came up during the early stages of rehearsal was whether people on a campaign would have props around to get more into character and more into the world. Knowing that information was very important when it came to certain scenes and definitely added more comedic effect.
Lou: What have you learned from working on this show as an assistant director?
Sam: I learned a lot about different tactics to use when working and giving notes to different actors since everyone works differently. I also learned a lot about the process itself and how much collaboration is needed when it comes to working with tech, a fight choreographer and a dance choreographer. It was such an amazing experience and opportunity to get to be a part of this show and learn so much during the process from Jerry, the tech team and the actors.
Lou: What was the hardest part of putting on this show and why?
Jerry: It’s a play that requires a lot of creativity and communication, which are obviously key skills for us to always hone as teachers and students of theatre. Me and the design team had regular weekly meetings in the spring to generate ideas and brainstorm about how we would solve some of the challenges of this play and the theater where we are producing it. It took a lot of planning and communication between all of us and the production staff in the department of Theatre & Dance. I’ve been really amazed and inspired by how hard everyone involved has worked on the show. Both the folks onstage and those behind the scenes. Probably the “hardest” part has been the amount of time and labor all these wonderful people have put into bringing the play to life. Of course, their dedication has ultimately made my job a lot easier.
Oscar: Navigating a lot of the things that move onstage! There are so many big pieces for the show, and it takes an army to move everything!
Michael: The hardest part of putting this show together was the immense scale and scope of the set design I wanted to achieve. The play has seventeen scenes, and many locations are completely different from one another so figuring out how to smoothly transition and use the same pieces of scenery to convey different locales was a challenge. As a design team we wanted to pay homage to the character of Tilly and respect that New Landia is high fantasy and not a static set. We wanted the world to reflect the stages of grief and that it always looms like Tiamat, the five-headed dragon, so we must face our grief head on.
Lou: No spoilers, but what’s your favorite part of the show?
Hatlyn: My favorite part of the show is the sword fight Agnes has with Boss Number Two! She has a very personal relationship with this boss which adds an interesting emotional layer to the fight. Beyond the personal aspects of the fight, the sequence itself was really cool to learn and perfect. It’s also a rare moment where both fighters are evenly matched, so it’s a welcome relief to not be beaten to a pulp the entire time.
Karina: It sounds cliche, but the end of the show is so special to me. To find connection with someone you love, even after their death, is what makes life worth living. There is a moment in the final scene where every night we just feel the story full force. It really goes to show how the journey of the show has fostered connections both on and off the stage.
Llailan: My favorite part of the show is the giant d20.
Elisa: How weird and exaggerated it is! We’ve embraced how dramatic this world is and it shows through the acting, sets and costumes.
Meagan: My favorite part of the show is the Gelatinous Cube.
Delan: My favorite part of the show is our first boss fight against an unassuming badass.
Oscar: My favorite part of the show? The fights!
“She Kills Monsters” promises to be a show with something everyone will enjoy. From humor to dramatic fights to heartfelt moments. The show will be performed from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1. Interested parties can purchase tickets from the Texas State Presents website: https://txstatepresents.universitytickets.com/ .
Written by: Cayla Soriano