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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

‘She Kills Monsters’: Get thee to the virtual realm!

Characters in “She Kills Monsters” as they realize one of their foes is a gelatinous cube. (Photo: Casey Rafter/[email protected])

After a devastating family tragedy leaves cheerleader Agnes Evans to cope with the loss of her sister and parents, she sits in a brightly lit room filled with teddy bears and discarded clothing. The team name Bobcats is stitched across the front of Agnes’ uniform as she considers the contents of a notebook held tightly in her arms. Agnes’ sister, Tilly, shared few details about her personal life with her sister. Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons notebook becomes a gateway for Agnes to connect with her sister in a way she never did before she died.

“She Kills Monsters,” a theatrical fantasy by playwright Qui Nguyen, was adapted for streaming in the wake of worldwide theater closures last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Agnes is the young protagonist in the play City Theatre will stream via Zoom for two final performances March 6 at 7:30 p.m. and March 7 at 2 p.m..  

Page by page and with the help of Tilly’s dungeon master, Chuck, played by former Express staffer Jonathan Plon, the play takes viewers on a journey with Agnes, played by Annie Eisman, as she joins Tilly’s D&D character Tillius the Paladin and comes to learn about some of the hidden aspects of her sister’s life. Tilly’s roleplaying friends join Agnes in character as their D&D characters — Kaliope, a sparkly elf with long, pointed ears and a fair complexion; Lilly, a voluptuous, purple-horned demon queen; Orcus, a demon soul keeper of the underworld, and Chuck, a meek and friendly D&D enthusiast who helps Agnes interpret the unfamiliar characters and settings as they explore Tilly’s campaign notebook.

Augmented reality filters used in “She Kills Monsters” were made by independent users of SnapCam to create the D&D effects. According to director Lori Ann DeLappe-Grondin, the effects allowed Lilly, played by Johnna Wood, to have her horns, Kaliope, played by Erika Luther, to have her ears and fair complexion, and for the grey, twisted face of Orcus to obscure the face of actress Kayla Willet.

“SnapCamera [is] from the makers of SnapChat. We are also using some filters from Zoom,” said Delappe-Grondin, a City College theatre arts professor. “With our technology capability varying from actor to actor, we have a combination of effects to get the show to look the way it did. Our costume designer, Nicole Sivell, was instrumental in our AR filters and coordinating the various looks.”

The cast was rounded out by Shannon Poe playing Tilly, as well as Agnes’ best friend Vera played by Sam Heidelburg, and City Theatre veteran Matthew Malone, who plays The Great Mage Steve. Malone’s character often found himself caught on screen and speechless, providing comic relief while other characters dismissed him. Sarah Palmero, Mimi Vang and Cece Monson played Farrah the Faerie, Evil Tina, and Evil Gabby, respectively. Using the advantage of acting online, Vang’s character successfully rolled to apply Succubi Choke Hold on Agnes, a move that allowed both actors to play with the medium.

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All actors performed their parts safely within their own homes, occupying a spot in the Zoom grid. An auxiliary place in the grid was often used to display props like maps or items relevant to the D&D campaign. Each actor’s performance space was set up with green screens, said DeLappe-Grondin. Theatre Professor Shawn Weinsheink served as the scenic designer, creating background images to depict different rooms or settings in the D&D gameplay.

“We also worked closely with film professor, Roberto Chacon-Rodriguez, to create the transitions between the real world and the D&D world. Rob and Nicole also worked with the cast to understand D&D,” said DeLappe-Grondin. “Technology challenges have been part of the equation from the start. SnapCamera is pretty glitchy, though they did just release an update that seems to have stabilized some things. We created back up plans for all AR filters and have had to use those backups a couple of times

Delappe-Grondin said while Zoom has proven to be a reliable medium, each actor has internet connections of varying reliability. Computer access and capability is also different from person to person within the cast. 

“Our artistic staff are pros and worked through every issue we ran across. Even when one of our actors, playing Lilith, had a complete computer meltdown 10 minutes before opening where things deleted themselves, with patience from our stage manager, she was ready to go on in time, and as if nothing had happened,” she said. 

“The big thing is flexibility and remembering that this is work, but it also needs to be a good experience for our students,” said Delappe-Grondin. “We hope they come out of this with a new batch of skills — acting on camera, restricted spaces, glitchy technology, and lots and lots of patience.”

Tickets to the March 6–7 online performances of “She Kills Monsters” are available through EventBrite for $10 each.

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