Dorothy's Friends Theatre Company is a new student theatre group focused on "putting positive queer stories onstage, and uniting a diverse community through celebration." As the group explains in their video, Dorothy's Friends Theatre Company gets its name from the phrase, "Are you a friend of Dorothy's?" which was used by members of the gay community—back when homosexuality was still considered a felony in the United States—to identify other members of their community.
The group's inaugural production, "She Kills Monsters," written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Jacob Surovsky, opens this Thursday.
"She Kills Monsters" tells the story of homebody Agnes, and the daring adventure she must go on through the world of Dungeons and Dragons in order to connect with, and understand, her recently passed sister Tilly.
Not just a director, Jacob Surovsky is also an experienced puppeteer. He has incorporated puppets into many of his past productions, including a puppet-based adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragedy "Macbeth," called "Hateful Hands." Puppets will also make an appearance in "She Kills Monsters."
In this interview, Surovsky elaborates on creative storytelling, and what this production has taught him.
What is your vision for this show?
Something I decided early on is to present the show in a found-object/handcrafted style. I was inspired by the aesthetic of the recent indie film "Dave Made a Maze," and George Watsky's 2013 song "Cardboard Castles." I went in this direction because I believe it's important to contextualize this show within Tilly's death. Agnes has lost her whole family, and is saddled with all of their belongings. Before she can finish grieving, she has to rid herself of the burden of all of her family's things. By making the set pieces and creatures in the show out of found objects, I'm hoping we can connect Agnes fighting through her personal demons of grieving her family and her adventuring and slaying of literal demons in the Dungeons and Dragons world.
What role does puppetry play in this production?
Since "She Kills Monsters" primarily takes place in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, we're using a combination of puppets, masks, and costumes of different kinds to represent the monsters in the show. Puppetry is also one of the ways we ask our audience to suspend their disbelief. As the show is being presented in a found-object style, none of the monsters or puppets are striving for realism. Rather, we're using puppetry to breathe life into objects that aren't traditionally presented as puppets.
How are you creating the monsters in the show?
The monsters are all being built out of found objects. While devising them, we were faced with a couple of challenges. As "She Kills Monsters" is set in 1995, we had to pick materials that fit the time period and fit in Agnes' world. One monster we faced enormous design challenges with was Miles, the Gelatinous Cube. We brainstormed several different ideas for how to represent a giant cube made out of Jello, from a swishy green pimp coat to using real Jello and projections. Ultimately, we picked a material that made much more sense in Agnes' world. As she's packing up her family's belongings, she's bound to need packing material. As a result, the Gelatinous Cube is made out of a common packing material…you'll have to see the show to see the final result.
Why is this show important?
The script of "She Kills Monsters" does a lot of things super well that most other pieces of theater seem to struggle with tremendously. First and foremost, it is a story with LGBT+ characters at its center that doesn't present them in a tragic light, or brush their sexuality off as comedic relief. Major characters in the show are homosexual and that's an important and empowering part of who they are. That is essential to Dorothy's Friends Theater Company's mission of putting positive LGBT+ stories in the limelight, which is why "She Kills Monsters" is such a great debut production.
Additionally, "She Kills Monsters" has a primarily female cast, front and center, engaged in epic fights with swords, daggers, battle axes, and a variety of other combat types. From past experience, I've noticed that in most shows men get to perform most of the stage combat, while women's combat is often overly sexualized, or puts the woman in a position of weakness. I love that in this show the combat is empowering and just generally badass, and I think it's important that audiences see more combat like it.
What has working on this production taught you?
I've worked on the production side of shows before, but this is the first time I've had the opportunity to work with such a large and talented creative team. So I learned early on to turn to the group for ideas and advice. What I think is so incredible about Independent Student Productions at USC is that the whole cast and creative team is taking it just as seriously as they'd take a mainstage SDA show, so there's a lot of trust and responsibility on our shoulders. By sharing ideas and jobs with each other, we all get a sense of ownership over the piece and ultimately wind up with a better product.
What do you hope people take away from this show?
We're trying really hard to strike a fine balance between processing grief and having fun. Agnes' journey is all about her fight to have closure on knowing who Tilly was. Whether you've lost someone close to you or not, I think this struggle is universal. When you boil down to it, what does it mean to really know someone? Agnes gets caught up in the stuff between her and Tilly: their differences in interests, age gap, and every other barrier. Agnes has to learn that the stuff was never really a barrier, and the Tilly she knew will have to be enough for her. I think we all can learn from this, and begin to better love the people close to us in our lives before they are gone.
"She Kills Monsters" will be playing April 5th-8th at The Montgomery, 1010 West 21st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007. There is a $5 recommended donation at the door. Reserve tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dftc-presents-she-kills-monsters-tickets-44475032018?aff=efbeventtix