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She Kills Monsters tells the story of Agnes Evans as she moves out of her childhood home following the death of her teenage sister, Tilly. Agnes finds Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons notebook, and she stumbles into a journey of discovery and action-packed adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly’s sanctuary. This fast- paced dramatic comedy is packed with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres, and 90s pop culture offering a heart-pounding homage to the nerd and warrior within us all.
The design of She Kills Monsters blurs the lines of Agnes' reality with the imagined game world of Tilly's adventures. Guided by an ethereal Narrator, the audience is introduced to the two sisters, learns their backstory, and journeys into the sisters’ very different lives. Each moment has a distinctive soundscape with transitions from location to location. As the show progresses, their two worlds meld together, which creates a new reality for Agnes. Popular music sets the tone for the reality, while epic orchestrations underscore the world of the game. While inside the game, the ambience overtakes the action to support the wondrous fights. On Agnes' journey, she fights both metaphorical and imaginary demons. The saga culminates ina battle with the Taimat, a five headed dragon, which represents Agnes' grief over the loss of her sister.
The cult classic TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer served as the design inspiration for She Kills Monsters. Director Glynis Rigsby wanted to create a mundane high school classroom that could suddenly change into a dramatic battle with mythic creatures, and then change back again. As a design team, we decided that jumping between the two worlds needed to be seamless and simple. The ability to flash between worlds was incredibly important. The scenic design was minimal; platforms that could transform into multiple locations with a lighting shift. Costumes for the large ensemble were fantastical and would transport Agnes into the Dungeons &Dragons world with the addition of particular pieces. To segue between worlds with the sound design, I used two approaches. One was a quick cut with music, which accompanied a dramatic shift in lighting and location. The second method was subtle crossfade to a new environment. My inspiration for this was video game sound design,which creates the ability to travel from location to location without a cut in music or scene. These two methods worked together to form a game world in which there was a constant underscore, with sharp cuts to reality when necessary.
Another inspiration for the sound design was to create an comic book like accompaniment to the fight sequences. For the impacts of swords and shields we created onomatopoetic sounds that lent weight to the collisions. Because the actors were young undergraduate students at The New School, they had limited experience with weaponry. The fight director and I choreographed moments where time appeared to slow down for more complicated sequences and speed up for faster movements. The music and effects would imitate the action, as if we were zooming in and out of focus on certain moments. This became particularly effective during a confrontation in which one character has super speed powers. During the penultimate battle, our protagonist fights a five-headed dragon. Agnes lunges, parries, and stabs, as sounds accompany her actions. In response, the dragon heads (masterfully staged as 5 puppets), reacts with a shriek, scream or roar. Agnes, underscored by triumphant music, vanquishes the dragon and her fears.