SHE KILLS MONSTERS
University of Wisconsin-Parkside
She Kills Monsters
by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Fabrice Conte-Williamson
Fight & Intimacy Direction by Christopher Elst
Scenic Design by Josh Christoffersen
Lighting Design by Ken Phillips
Projections Design by Chris Payne
Costume Design by Jesse Ocampo
Hair & Makeup Design by Isabella Cernuska
Sound Design by Jack Purves
Props by Lynsey Gallagher
Photo credit: Alyssa Nepper and Laura Mason
The University of Wisconsin-Parkside, 2022.
When drag entertainer RuPaul appeared at the 2016 VH1 Trailblazer Honors, the room instantly filled with thunderous applause and warm cheers. After thanking the audience for their kind welcome, RuPaul began with a warning: “We are once again reminded that the fight for civil rights is never-ending, but we won’t let the darkest recesses of human nature extinguish the light, hope, and love we feel in our soul. As gay people, we get to choose our families, and my chosen family includes millions of brave men and women across this country and around the world. Don’t f##k with my family.”
In response, a new wave of applause rose from the crowd—this time with a palpable sense of urgency. RuPaul’s face tightened. The look in his eyes now revealed a painful reality. Just a few days earlier, a gunman had killed forty-nine people and severely wounded fifty in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. “Please, join me in a moment of silence for the family we lost on June 12 in Orlando,” RuPaul asked the room. People then closed their eyes and bowed their heads to honor those murdered on that terrible night.
The threat of physical and emotional violence is a common experience for those of us who grew up queer. It permeates every aspect of our lives from the distressing moment we begin to understand our true identity to the pivotal decision we make to come out to our friends and family. Will we be accepted or rejected when we reveal who we are? RuPaul often speaks of the importance of a “chosen family” in the life of queer people—a group of friends who also belong to the LGBTQ+ community and who help restore a sense of belonging when we lose our place in the heteronormative structures that govern our society.
To be sure, the social, political, and cultural standing of the LGBTQ+ community has incrementally improved in the past 30 years. After the darkest hours of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that had persistently tied LGBTQ+ stories to death and disease, new narratives about queer characters began to emerge in popular television shows and movies throughout the 1990s. Hit programs such as The WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, NBC’s Will & Grace, or Channel 4’s Queer as Folk allowed wide audiences to recognize the universality of the human experience through the eyes of multidimensional LGBTQ+ characters. The power of representation and visibility is undeniably great. These characters and stories gave hope to millions of closeted queer youth religiously watching, sometimes beside their unknowing parents and friends. The extraordinarily rapid shift in public opinion toward the LGBTQ+ community seem to crystalize in June 2015—a year before Pulse—when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, granting marriage equality to all Americans.
Despite the fundamental and unprecedented changes in the lives of LGBTQ+ folks, however, the question of safety and well-being for this community remains stubbornly pressing. The mass shooting at Pulse served as a frightening reminder that we continue to endure constant attacks for simply wanting to live authentically, with dignity, courage, and joy. More recent political efforts to disenfranchise queer youth through the banning of LGBTQ+ literature from school libraries demonstrate the furious determination of a specific segment of the conservative movement to erase us from the interwoven tapestry of American life.
The desire for community and safety is what prompts Tilly Evans, a closeted fifteen-year-old lesbian, to begin playing Dungeons & Dragons with a group of friends—nerds and other outcasts who fail to fit in with the popular kids in their high school. Through the game, Tilly creates an imaginary world in which she and her friends can escape the hardships of life as a 1990s teen in Athens, Ohio. Instead of hanging out at the mall after school, they get to partake in fantastical quests, fight monsters, slay dragons, and, perhaps, even find true love. On the other hand, Agnes, a typical teenager and Tilly’s older sister, struggles to understand why she isn’t more interested in boys, music, and tv. After the sudden death of Tilly and her parents in a tragic car accident, Agnes discovers Tilly’s module, the notebook in which she compiled all the details of her D&D adventures. Realizing that she knows little about who her sister really was, Agnes decides to enlist the help of a local Dungeon Master, Chuck, and play the game herself.
Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters is a play that celebrates our “chosen families,” those who accept us and love us for who we are. It is also a powerful coming-out story—the very moment in a queer person’s life when everything is on the line. The action of coming out exists between the longing desire to share and the deep-seated fear of sharing one’s most authentic self with the people closest in their lives. And, for most queer teenagers, this fear is perhaps the scariest of all monsters that they must slay.