She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms

July 24–Aug. 1 (online)

Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh

When Raleigh Little Theatre’s education director, Meredyth Pederson Cooper, realized her Teens on Stage production of She Kills Monsters was going totally virtual—with only online rehearsals before its online performances begin this week—she saw one major challenge from the start: that soul-sucking dynamic that creeps into marathon sessions on Zoom, where the group would be rehearsing. As many know, too much Zooming can drain the drama out of anything.

“Sometimes you just have to walk away from the screen and go feel the sunshine outside,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted to make sure students had that opportunity, too.”

RLT’s first virtual production has posed other challenges, too. Its education program put all its classes online in the spring, but Cooper, her design team, and the actors are still working out how a video screen redefines theatrical space and changes the concept of blocking, or physically moving and situating actors during a show.

“A lot of the time I find I’m saying, ‘That’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer because we’ve never done this before,’” she says. “We’re all making discoveries. It feels like a lot of mutual grace is being given.”

At least they have the playwright in their corner. After the comic drama She Kills Monsters became one of the most produced plays in the U.S. in recent years, Qui Nguyen returned to the work this spring, crafting a version to be performed online during the pandemic.

“That did us a lot of favors coming out of the gate,” says technical director Dennis Berfield. With the cast performing from their homes, he and his staff will be taking some 12 video feeds from different physical locations, channeling them into one computer, adding video and sound effects, and condensing it all into a single program feed.

The virtual version still focuses on central character Agnes’s odyssey of discovery after her estranged younger sister Tilly is killed in a car crash. Poring over Tilly’s notebooks, Agnes learns how little she knew her sibling, who was a Dungeons and Dragons nerd—and had a girlfriend in the world of the game.

“It’s about grief, but there’s a lot of fun and humor in it,” Cooper says. “I think it’s exactly what we need right now.”

RLT artistic director Patrick Torres notes that the experience is already influencing his thoughts on potential changes at the theater.

“Giving students the opportunity to perform on a virtual platform may be new now, but it may become a new wing of the art form in the future,” he says. “Meanwhile, it’s forcing growth on our part too: thinking how we can engage beyond live events and new ways to offer content.”

The theater’s next experiment in virtual outreach comes soon when it produces an online version of its raucous annual fundraiser, Divas!, Aug. 6.

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