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CMU Theatre's She Kills Monsters brings together collaborators from across campus

CMU theatre continues to move forward and is currently in rehearsal for an ambitious new project in collaboration with several other departments on campus. She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms will be CMU’s first entirely digital, full-length, staged play and will stream on demand to patrons from October 30 through November 8.

The collaboration involves Director Mo LaMee and his cast and crew in the theatre department along with student artists from the art department’s animation, film and photography program, overseen by Evan Curtis, original music by music department head Darin Kamstra and filming and production by Greg Mikolai and students in the mass communications program.

The collaboration began with talks between LaMee and Curtis around students designing characters for animated sections of the play. She Kills Monsters tells the story of Agnes, a young woman navigating her grief following the death of her teenage sister Tilly. When Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons notebook is found, a world of fantasy gaming is opened up, complete with elves, ogres, fairies and other wondrous creatures. Curtis and his students are tasked with designing these characters.

“This collaboration is perfect for our students,” said Curtis, who has a background in stop motion animation. “This is a time when mainstream culture is embracing nerd culture — we’re now the heroes of the story. When I told my students they’d be illustrating dragons, they didn’t even know what the play was — they were just on board.” 

This special edition of She Kills Monsters, recently released by playwright Qui Nguyen, is meant to be performed online using creative digital techniques and animation.

“Last spring the playwright came out with a digital version of the play and as it turned out, that timing was perfect for us,” remarked LaMee. “This particular version can only be done online which in a way is helpful in terms of putting a box around what we can do to tell an interesting story without being in a live performance realm.”

Auditions for the show were conducted over Zoom and initial rehearsals have also been over Zoom. Just as students rehearsing for Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed were challenged by the new protocol of rehearsing in masks, this cast is facing the challenge of rehearsing over a digital platform where they are not in the same room with their director or their fellow actors.

“Rehearsing over Zoom has presented some interesting challenges,” said student actor TJ James, who plays Tilly. “Doing a play with fight choreography is strange to figure out while socially distanced but it’s been an incredibly rewarding process.”

Once the cast has completed a truncated rehearsal period, they will then enter the studio for filming, after which set and lighting designer Matt Schlief will take over with the editing process. Meanwhile, animation students are hard at work on their designs, music is being composed and costumes are being designed for the live action portions of the production. Essentially, CMU theatre is making its first film.

Actor and designer Lauren Knight is in the particularly unique position of being cast to act in the play and is also designing costumes and makeup. A fully immersive experience, Knight is excited that she gets to design her own character’s costume.

"I was already assigned to work on costumes before auditions happened," said Knight. "As I did my character research, I realized I really wanted to play Lilith. Luckily, I did get cast as her, so every time we discussed how to show her personality through her clothes I just thought 'what would I wear?' It honestly felt like I was just creating another version of me since I share a lot of similarities with Lilith. It's been a lot of work to manage both, but when everyone gets to look at the costumes I made it will all be worth it!"

She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms is the perfect example of the spirit of curiosity, innovation and collaboration that CMU exemplifies. Tickets for viewing the stream can be purchased at coloradomesa.edu/tickets. Once a ticket has been purchased, patrons will be sent a link and password for viewing the production, which will be available on demand from October 30 to November 8.

More information on the 2020-21 Theatre and Dance Season along with a digital program for She Kills Monsters can be found online.

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