The University of Utah Department of Theatre is busy preparing for its upcoming production of “She Kills Monsters,” at Kingsbury Hall on Jan. 16-19, 2020. A story of friendship, loss and acceptance, “She Kills Monsters” follows Agnes Evans, a young woman who, in the process of grieving, discovers that her late sister Tilly was a well-known Dungeons & Dragons player. Learning through loss, Agnes delves into this fantastical world.
In a special course in the Department of Theatre, guest artist Matt Sorenson worked with students to bring Dungeons & Dragons creatures to life through crafting original puppets. “The students working on this project are from several different areas of study; theatrical design, stage management, computer science, and writing programs, so they are all bringing and taking away a wide array of skills and experiences from this class,” Sorenson explained.
Using ethafoam (a type of polyethylene foam commonly used for packing materials or floatation devices) and PVC pipe, Sorenson and the students made a range of creatures from the Dungeons & Dragons universe.
“The script specifically calls for creatures from that world, including Kobolds, Bugbears, a Gelatinous Cube, a Beholder and the five-headed dragon called Tiamat,” Sorenson said. “There are other generic monsters in the script that Director Jamie Rocha Allen, Peter Terry and I worked together to flesh out, like zombies, a Kraken and a Mind Flayer. It was important to Jamie and the artistic team to remain as authentic to the source material as possible.”
Contemporary puppetry extends way beyond the boundaries of most mainstream associations. From a design and fabrication standpoint, creating puppets for theatre poses creative challenges that lead to innovative solutions.
“When most people hear they will be building puppets, they are likely thinking about foam and fabric hand puppets like the Muppets; small, cute, and manageable. I think many of the students were surprised to find how unique and widely varied each of the puppets for this production are,” Sorenson said.
Used in integration with other theatrical tools, the puppets in “She Kills Monsters” allows the audience imagination to go further. As Sorenson describes, “Puppets are wonderful and can enhance a production in many ways that other elements of live theatre can’t, but we still utilize the same time-honored theatrical storytelling techniques. Using puppets still relies on the audience to use their active imagination and to suspend their disbelief in the moments being created onstage, as theatre practitioners have done for centuries.”