Visiting Jessika Malone at Nashville Children’s Theatre to talk about Sideshow @ Actors Bridge’s latest show is a little like being guided through Wonderland by Alice. The young actress, director and company front-woman sparkles with enthusiasm for She Kills Monsters, which opens today.
Qui Nguyen’s play tells the tale of Agnes Evans, who is leaving her hometown after the death of her younger sister, Tilly. Agnes decides to stay a while when she finds her sister’s Dungeons and Dragons journal, and journeys into a world of Tilly’s creation. The New York Times calls She Kills Monsters “…deceptively breezy and rather ingenious. The whole enterprise is kind of dopey and kind of invigorating and kind of remarkable. It will slash and shape-shift its way into your heart.”
After exploring the wonders of the set shop and journeying through the fascinating alley arrangement that provides the play’s setting, Malone leads me to the green room, where we focus on the more cerebral regions of the play:
How did the company select She Kills Monsters?
“I found She Kills Monsters while I was in New York over Christmas, and I was in the Drama Book Shop. It was one of the employee picks up on the wall, and the cover immediately drew my attention, because it looked like a parody of one of the D&D books. It had a lady warrior on the front, battling a five-headed dragon. So I picked it up and read the back, and I knew I had to buy it.
“After shows, I read the play in my hotel room. I came to love it, and knew I had to do this play. When I got back, and we were deciding how to wrap our season, I thought we should do something kind of fun. We had done some heavy pieces, like Will Eno’s The Flu Season. It felt like time to really let our imaginations run wild, and we wanted to include the whole ensemble. Also, we’ve been interested, as a group, in puppetry, and this was a great way to integrate that into our work. Mitch Massaro is our puppet designer, and he’s done some of that for NCT. In addition to the five-headed dragon, Tiamat, we have a giant gelatinous cube, and a beholder.”
She Kills Monsters breaks some of the traditional boundaries of theater. Have you advertised the play to the local geeks?
“We reached out to the Geek Media Expo, Nashville Geek Life, the Renfaire, the Anime and Cosplay societies. I think I’ve been to six gaming stores now, and it’s been really fun to talk to all the gamers about tabletop games, especially about girl gamers.”
Tell us about that aspect of the show.
“It’s set in the ’90s, which is interesting. That was a great time for girl power, and the show explores the life of a female geek. We’re here! We exist, and I visited a game store in Franklin, and yeah, there were two guys behind the counter, but there was also a girl. At the Game Stop in Green Hills, the person that waited on me was a girl gamer! They’re excited about the show, and it’s great to recognize that everybody’s a nerd. I didn’t play D&D in high school, but as I get older, it seems like more and more of my friends are playing. I’ve played several times and loved it! Several cast members are die-hard gamers. Abel Muñoz, who plays Steve, games weekly with his friends via Skype.
“It’s great to see the communities that gaming creates, and the similarities between gaming and what we do here every day in the theater.”
We know there are monsters and adventurers and action, but what’s She Kills Monsters really about?
“One of the play’s major themes is acceptance. Accepting that we’re all a little nerdy, but also it’s a coming-out play. Agnes learns that Tilly was struggling with her sexuality, and that comes out in the game she created. There are also themes of bullying, which is relevant right now, too. Aside from being hilarious and crazy, She Kills Monsters has a really great heart.”
What challenges have you faced presenting She Kills Monsters?
“The biggest challenge is the scope of the production. There must be a dozen major combat sequences! I’ve done some stage combat before, but nothing like this. There are so many different styles and weapons. Our entire team has been in boot camp with our fight director, JP Schuffman, learning to dual wield and haul around really heavy shields. You’d be surprised how heavy they get after two hours! And then there’s puppets and crazy costuming and projection and make-up and dance choreography, but it’s been super rewarding!”
Who’s in the cast?
“Almost all of the cast has graduated. They’re all young and emerging performers. Actor’s Bridge has an actor training program. Specifically the Sideshow Ensemble, the program I lead, is for emerging theater professionals in the first five years of their careers.”
What’s it like preparing and performing at Nashville Children’s Theatre?
“I saw my first play here at NCT when I was a little girl, and it’s just a wonderful, loving environment for us to do this show.”
She Kills Monsters opens today (June 6) and runs through Sunday at Nashville Children’s Theatre, 25 Middleton St. Shows start at 8 p.m. today-Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 or $10 plus the roll of a 20-sided die to “gamble like a gamer.” Go to sideshowkillsmonsters.eventbrite.com for online ticket purchases.
Cast and crew
Narrator (in VO): Jaclyn Johnson
Tilly Evans: Sara Gaddis
Agnes Evans: Amanda Meador
Chuck: Tyler Henry
Miles: Conway Preston
Lilith: Kara McLeland
Kaliope: Cassie Hamilton
Orcus: Diego Gomez
Vera: Shannon Spencer
Steve: Abel Muñoz
Farrah/Evil Gabbi: Mallory Kimbrell
Evil Tina: Britt Byrd
Monsters: Dustin Moon, Zeke Pennington, and JP Schuffman
Directed by Jessika Malone
Assistant Director: Ricardo Puerta
Technical Direction by Mitch Massaro
Stage Manager: Matt Marcum
Fight Director: JP Schuffman
Assistant Fight Director: Diego Gomez
Make-Up Design: Hayley Rose Maurer
*Image courtesy Sideshow @ Actors Bridge.
Costume Design: Amber Bray