KEARNEY — When student director Mary Joyce Storm sat down to play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time, she needed to explain to the other players that she was doing it for a serious reason.
“I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Dungeons and Dragons but I grew up on ‘Lord of the Rings,’ so I have that knowledge of fantasy,” she said in an interview. “I had to do a lot of Dungeons and Dragons research to be able to direct the show. When I played it, I told the players, ‘This is for research.’”
Storm needed a background in the game to help her direct “She Kills Monsters,” a play by Qui Nguyen, opening on Wednesday and continuing through Oct. 13 at the Miriam Drake Theatre, presented by the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The production is appropriate for audiences of high school age and older.
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“’She Kills Monsters’ follows the story of Agnes,” Storm said. “Her younger sister, Tilly, died in a car crash. Agnes follows this journey of learning about her younger sister through a game of Dungeons and Dragons that her sister designed.”
Storm notes that the play explores the five stages of grief.
“That’s what her entire journey represents,” she said.
The play, first produced in 2011, uses comedy, fantasy, drama and role-playing to explain the characters and their relationships with each other.
“This is not necessarily classified as a comedy,” Storm said. “This is more classified as a fantasy/adventure, but it does have comedic elements. In the definition of theater, it does have a happy ending so it would be a comedy, but it does deal with a little bit of heavier stuff.”
The faculty of the UNK Theatre Department picked the script and asked Storm, a theater major, to direct the show. She sees the show as an exercise in acceptance.
“When I was writing the director’s notes for this show, I talked a lot about how everyone can relate to something they think they know, but they don’t actually know,” she said. “Eventually you have to go through that journey to figure out who that person is, and maybe even after they have died.”
“This is a show we’re all drawn to because it deals with fun things like fantasy, sisters and relationships,” Storm said.
As a director, Storm focused on the characters and how the audience responds to them.
“One of the characters I was really drawn into was Agnes,” she said. “One of my main concepts was that the show is from her point of view. A lot of times I delve into the internalization of the characters, but when you’re directing, you also have to think about how to convey these characters to the audience. How can I make what I’m putting on stage understandable to someone who hasn’t seen it before.”
Deciding to use Agnes’ point of view allowed the director to disregard the differences between reality and fantasy.
“It changed the idea of our fantasy world,” she said. “Instead of there being the real world and the fantasy world, it’s how the fantasy world evolves as Agnes begins to understand it. One of my big ideas was that when Tilly, the younger sister, played Dungeons and Dragons, she would imagine her surroundings as the house she grew up in.”
The farther Agnes goes into the game, the more the surroundings morph into the fantasy world that she understands at the end.
The script calls for a variety of monsters. Storm uses puppetry to create some of the creatures.
“We needed that extra thing to portray a monster or something for the cast to be afraid of,” she said. “Throughout the process we wanted the idea that the monsters get bigger and bigger as the show goes on. The final dragon fight is the biggest monster. The puppets help with that. We have smaller marionette puppets at the beginning and then we have an ogre that is over nine feet tall.”
As part of the processes of directing a student show, Storm learned to sharpen her communication skills. She worked with the actors and coordinated the other aspects of the production as well. As for the power of theater, Storm understands that each performance is unique.
“Even though you’re working on the same script, a show I produce is going to be very different than a production that someone else produces,” Storm said. “I think that’s really cool.”