Analysis Of Design Elements In The Play She Kills Monsters By Qui Nguyen
She Kills Monsters is a story about a woman who finds the journal of her deceased younger sister containing a Dungeons and Dragons game scenario, and by playing the game, starts to learn who her sister truly was before she passed on. It consisted of dragons, sword play, evil cheerleaders, and Cheezewiz. But most importantly, it focused on family, love, and trying to feel accepted in a society who looked down upon people with differences and an open imagination.
I believe She Kills Monsters would not have effectively delivered these messages to the audience if it was not for the design elements of costumes, lighting, scenery, and sound. The costumes for this play achieved all the objectives of a design that “works”. For example, in class, the speaker mentioned how the costumes should help to tell the story and allow the audience to get to know the characters. The main character, Agnes Evans, was characterized as an “average” and “normal” person throughout her life, which is why her costume consisted of darker hues such as brown or beige. It would not make sense for the character to wear bright colors; neutral colors were used to keep the impression that she is like everyone else and blends into society successfully. This also ties into the fact that she is the only character to not change her costume throughout the play, which emphasizes her normality and the blur that starts to happen for her between real life and her imagination. Within the game, an entirely different new world is presented which explains the contrast seen in costume design.
In the Dungeons and Dragons game, there are a variety of mythical creatures and people with unnatural abilities and the costumes presented what would also fall under Tilly’s style. For example, the woman wore short, tight dresses that allowed them to carry their weapons for battle. The character of Tilly looked up to them because they were strong and beautiful woman who did not care what anyone else thought. The colors of the game characters costumes also made sense because of who they were; Orca and Lily wore red because they were associated with the Devil or hell while Fairy wore pink. The cheerleaders wore the same costume throughout the play, but the way to differentiate between the two worlds was they only carried black pom-poms when they were in the game. It is also interesting to point out how the real-life portion of the play stayed within the time period of the 90s but in the game, the costumes explored different and imaginative styles which could fall under any time period. This was important in order to symbolize how the story can live on and anyone has the ability to continue the game in the future.
The costumes were a vital part in getting to know the characters, follow along with the story, and help establish the style of the play, in both real life and inside the D&D game. For the play, light was manipulated in a lot of ways that supported the mood of the production and helped convey information using selective visibility when needed. For example, a hooded figure was projected overhead for most of the play, overseeing the action that was happening on stage. It represented the narrator or dungeon master of the game and was another resource the audience can look to if they did not know whether the action was taking place in real life or in the game. However, the lighting designer made an easy distinction for this. Whenever the character was in the game, the stage would not be lit all the way to highlight the mystery behind it or heighten the action that was happening.
On the other hand, when Agnes returned to real life, the stage would quickly return to being fully lit, which was intended to represent “natural” light. Another thing to point out is the fact that projections were used, and the kind of lettering shown in the play resembled those of a game. Once again, the lighting was appropriate to use for not only the time, but it supported what was happening in the story and helped the audience focus on what was important. The style of the play, and more specifically the scenic design, is “abstract.” The definition for abstraction is that it does make any attempt to represent a “real space.” In the play, the set consisted of triangular sheets that suspended in the air from the top to the bottom with ladders on each side of the center. Even though others may frown upon plays using a nonexistent set, abstraction is the most effective type of style for this kind of play. Dungeons and Dragons is a game that requires one to be adaptable and being able to create a story out of practically nothing. Since the play switched between both worlds a lot of the times, it would be inefficient to have huge set pieces that would take time moving between scenes and locations. Instead, the set designer wanted the audience to feel as if they were playing the game along with the Agnes as well, making the set as minimalistic as possible for the audience to use their imagination. This also explains why the characters used the whole space, such as entering through the aisle or exiting behind the seats, in order to help the patrons feel immersed in the story.
The final design element looked at is sound. Because the game was based around a game, there were many game sound effects used throughout. For example, when the character Steve dies yet again, the same sound used when a Mario character dies in “Super Mario World” is heard to add comedic elements. On a more practical note, in the final battle scene when Agnes is fighting off the dragons, there are a variety of dragon breaths and noises employed to make the scene believable. Music from the 90s was also played which fit the time period of the story. The “anthem” of the play was the song “Loser” by Beck because D&D is stereotyped of being only played by “geeks” and “nerds.” Regarding the sound systems, the ones used the most was the main system and the rear/side system. This was because the lighting designer wanted to support the set designer in that the audience needs to feel as if they were playing the game themselves. The acting done by the UCF students was phenomenal which allowed for suspension of belief to come quite easily.
However, this play would not be what it was without the use of the design elements. They not only effectively helped tell the story, but they did not clash with one another and it provided excellent audience experience. If it not were the successful uses of costumes, lighting, scenery, and sound, the play’s message and theme would have been lost and not properly conveyed.
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