Southern Oregon Professor of Theatre Arts Jackie Apodaca directed “She Kills Monsters” by Qui Nguyen, now playing in the SOU Black Box Theatre. The play takes place inside the fantasy role-play game, Dungeons & Dragons, which first became popular in the 1970s.
Actors play two roles, fantasy characters (with special powers and attributes) and real-life high school students playing D&D. Then there are monsters, including leprechauns, harpies and scary dolls. I met with Aurelia Grierson, who plays Agnes; Assistant Director Carlos-Zenen Trujillo; and Apodaca in the SOU Library Coffee Shop to talk about the play and the game.
CZT: Dungeons & Dragons has become a popular activity. It’s not on a board or a computer; it’s just papers and dice. You pick a character, then you get to build your character (with your stats and skills) and then you have an entire adventure. But it’s all just people around a table telling stories.
EH: What are some of your contributions as dramaturg?
CZT: I bring in insight into D&D and into figuring out what the monsters are, what the monsters do, and what masks the monsters would wear.
EH: How did you achieve such freedom and authenticity with your actors?
JA: I cast it well. Definitely part of the process was working on the physicality and the movement. To keep the magical world fairly buoyant, we worked with a certain amount of freedom and goofiness. That allowed us to find the size, without feeling we had to do it perfectly or right.
The most important thing to me always is the honesty of what is happening. There isn’t a right way to do anything. I do think that each actor and each artist has their own individual way of approaching a problem, approaching a script, approaching a canvas, whatever it is. Yes, you have to train; yes, you have to learn a lot of skills and techniques. But then, only by letting yourself act and react in the moment — to what is in front of you — can you find anything real and authentic. We have a framework, but actors are constantly free to do what they feel inside of the frame. How one person reacts to something, might be radically different from somebody else.
EH: It was an intricate framework as far as action and combat. How did you achieve that?
JA: Jonathan Toppo from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival structured all the fights. He works very in the moment too. He has a framework in his mind, and then he comes in, looks at who’s there, what we have, what the room looks like, and then he’s riffing in a really free way. He makes decisions, and the actors complete what he sets out for them.
AG: One thing I appreciate with this show is that we never let an actor move without it being motivated. That may have something to do with why it feels more authentic, because everything is coming from a natural impulse of the actor wanting to do something with or to their other actor.
JA: Without that, you just watch how the director has made this beautiful picture, where they’re all standing in these beautiful spots, which I find extremely boring.
AG: I think the story transcends Dungeons and Dragons. I think it’s so much about grief and the how the people we lose aren’t really lost, because they leave behind stories and narratives. The stories are the way in and the way out. I think that’s a theme that everyone can really relate to.