SMTD presents ‘She Kills Monsters:’ A conversation with the director

Bella Javier, Arts Editor

On Thursday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m., Oakland University’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD) will present its first production at West Campus, “She Kills Monsters.”

The story chronicles Agnes Evans’ (Jaclyn Ellis) life following the death of her younger sister, Tilly (Leah Wilson). While she packs up to leave her hometown, Agnes stumbles upon Tilly’s old Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) notebook, which allows her to piece together the lesser known parts of her sister’s life and reconnect with the sister she was never able to know.

“Every theater, every university that does the show has their own take on it, and I think sometimes it might lay heavy in the game itself, Dungeons and Dragons,” Kelli Crump, visiting professor for SMTD and director of “She Kills Monsters” said, “but I wanted to focus more on the human beings that play the game.”

Crump set out on an endeavor of authentic storytelling with her cast and crew, studying the ins-and-outs of the show from its historical elements to the individual identities of each character. Their main concern as a collective is properly representing the story, whether that be through costuming, music or character work.

“I don’t want this to feel like a museum piece where it’s clearly a younger generation wearing and saying things they think my generation wore and said,” Crump said. “I want it to be authentic.”

Crump acknowledged that D&D is notorious for its racist implications — how features of Black and Brown populations are often reflected in the game as parallels to otherwise evil characters, whereas the remaining icons typically appeal to Eurocentric cultures. In response to this issue, designers were told to “think outside of the Eurocentric lens.” Not only does this benefit the greater production, but expands student designers’ creative resources.

“I challenged my designers to look at […] non-Eurocentric influences of storytelling for costuming, for puppetry [and] for shadow play, so that they start looking at cultural differences as foundational resource material,” Crump said.

As this production was being put together, the company also had to tackle adjusting to a new environment: West Campus (OUWC). Since Varner Hall is undergoing renovations, many performing arts classes had to make the move over to OUWC. For fall semester productions “She Kills Monsters” and the upcoming “A New Brain,” this meant being stripped of their rehearsal and performance spaces and having to transform an ordinary cafeteria into a theater.

“This kind of experience has been awesomely rewarding in a way that I didn’t expect, because we had to think outside of the box and be creative,” Crump said. “It gets us out of whatever norm we fall into as educators and artists.”

Aside from the task of having to adjust to a new space, the company behind “She Kills Monsters” must maintain a level of safety in the ongoing pandemic, despite university protocols. While students, faculty and staff are not required to wear masks, individuals taking part in the productions at OU must do so during rehearsals in order to ensure the safety of their peers.

“We have to take our health seriously — not just because of the finances spent, but because this is our joy,” Crump said. “That’s our job now — that is now part of the norm as an artist, […] because our industry is communal.”

The university no longer having free, onsite PCR testing posed an issue to the performing arts department, made up of personnel who rely on working closely with others for their education. This only makes it more crucial that participating students have the integrity in and outside of rehearsals to be aware of the collective wellbeing.

While the show is as fun and exciting as it is touching and full of heart, Crump gives reason to come see the show aside from the story itself.

“I think, because during COVID we had to be isolated, […] this is an opportunity to build community, to do the thing that our characters are doing, to meet other people [and] to have a shared experience together,” Crump said.

“She Kills Monsters” runs this weekend only, Oct. 27-30 at 8 p.m. You can secure tickets online at https://www.etix.com/ticket/o/5878/oakland-university or by calling the box office at (248) 370-3013.