Written by Michelle Botello
The Saville Theatre delivered a great performance from October 25-November 3 as “She Kills Monsters” mounted the stage at San Diego City College with lots of visual effects, great prop work, and combat choreography with life-like weaponry.
This playwright was created by Qui Nguyen who focused on the limits around growing up and becoming an adult. The message is: try to be good, to be brave, stand up for yourself and what is right, stop judging people for what you do not understand about them, and maybe give yourself permission to reveal the warrior within in creative ways.
The story will cover details about the relationship between the actor playing the role. There are questions about how the play affects the actor’s life, the learning process, how the actor trained for his role, and the challenges he faced during the role.
One of the most effective people is the director, who made the play so powerful. Jeffrey Ingman, director of the play said, “I think the show is timely. It speaks the power of women and the power of imagination and the idea that you can get through obstacles and grief and personal loss through, walking through it in a way that’s creative, it’s inspiring, by using our imaginations to kinda walk us through those obstacles of life.
I think the play is, it’s timely, because I think if you notice, every single person in those fights are women, fighting against a foe, which I find fascinating and wonderful, so I was very drawn to the play for that reason. I just loved it so much. And then I cast it well so then I got a great group of people working it through.”
Ingman has been in the biz directing for 35 years, has conquered 73+ shows, and this is his first show in five years. “I had originally given up directing... because I had done so much of it in the last 25 years, so it was a great opportunity. The script came along, they asked if I would do it and I jumped on it. It’s been fun.”
The play is about Agnes, who has a sister, Tilly, who dies. Agnes barely knew her little sister though. Tilly leaves behind a game of Dungeon and Dragons inside her diary. Agnes chooses to play the game and get to know more about her younger sister.
The play is filled with youth complexities, grief from profound loss, and the power of imagination moving towards peace and the resolve. Denessa Cazares, 19, who plays Agnes said, “Oh it was definitely different. She starts off as this weakling kind of teen but as the play progresses she becomes a strong independent woman not only for the fact that she lost her sister, and she's going through that grief, but just in any aspect of her life whereas her best friend, her boyfriend, and anyone else that had to partake in any of that.”
What inspired Cazares' character was herself. She said, “I also used to be like that. I used to be weak and just kinda let myself be thrown around ,but then I found something in myself that felt powerful, and so I got up back on my feet and I started to fight back and started to defeat my inner demons and such.”
She looks back and finds that love wins.“The people I love are always going to be the people I love, and they're going to love me back no matter what, and that's okay, even though they're not in my life anymore.” She and the cast had been in rehearsal two months.
She could not escape the feelings she had about playing her role, “The story affected me in so many ways. I related to Agnes on a personal level, growing up feeling average and trying to fit in and what not.”
She was also impacted by the grieving aspect and it made her think of people in her life who she knew and could’ve gotten to know better and never got to say goodbye to them when the time came.
Training for a show in theatre takes a lot of work and dedication. The play takes place in a fantasy world created by characters playing Dungeons & Dragons. Cazares describes her experience. She said,”I got many pieces of advice from my director, Jeffrey Ingman, that helped me train.”
This is a huge step for Cazares. “Training for the role was an experience in itself! This is my second show ever and my first time working with a director that isn’t my professor, so it took me a while to get used to working with a different style, which I feel, in a way, affected how I trained for the role.”
One technique Cazares shared about was replacing characters with people from her real life which helped her connect with the story. She said, “We also delved into early 90’s culture which was a bit hard for me since I wasn’t alive in the 90’s.”
Cazares did not let that get in her way. Her outstanding performance had a lot to do with her own methods. “Talking to family members who were alive during that era helped a lot. I also had help from a lot of my classmates who were born in the early and mid 90’s.” Also listening to music helped the most, she said, and her playlist is much longer now.
“The learning process was tedious but not without a reward. As someone who was born and raised in the 21st century, it was hard to let go of today’s colloquialisms and body language and adopt a whole new one for this show.”
To her, it seemed like a new way of ‘living life’. She knows that now she can audition for a show with the same time with this experience under her belt.
“My challenges for this show were being able to relate to my character, as funny as that seems. It wasn’t till I dug more into Agnes and who she loved and what she loved, and, in general, just how she lived, did I apply that to myself. My constant challenge right now is to still be truthful yet play the part and honor Agnes as the character she is.”
“As I keep performing this show I keep making discoveries about her and what she can teach me in both the theatre and real world.”
After she dies she plays an active role on the stage. Heidi Dotimas, 26, played the role of Tilly and said, “I guess like emotionally or getting ready for this role I learned a lot about 90’s culture. I learned a lot about specifically Dungeons and Dragons culture in the 90’s and maybe what being a lesbian means for someone during the 90’s. It’s very different from being lesbian today.”
”I really personally connect with my character, especially we both have a history of being like really big nerds, I played D&D in the past, I also have an interesting relationship with family so it hit me very personally.” It was even therapeutic, she said.
During the play, the story was a continuous amount of energy and excitement, and once Agnes learned about her sister, the pieces started to come together. Dotimas said, “It’s a story about like this mutual understanding between the sisters and I think, yes, Tilly wants to reach out to her sister Agnes, and wants Agnes to understand her.
For training she did a lot of fight choreography which was the most difficult for her, she said, being in four fights, one is exhausting and she has never worked with swords before. “We would do fight training every single day. We got to really do some amazing movement training with Jeffrey who studied under some kung fu masters and fight masters.”
In the process of acting she said, “I think is just an amazing and eye opening experience that not a lot of people get to experience outside of acting. Just learning and valuing emotional connection and empathy, and I think, I hope (laughs) has made me a better person.”
But I think a lot more of her frustration comes from like Agnes’ refusal to understand her and refusal to confront her sister’s real identity.” “At its core, this play is about like authenticity and seeing other people’s truths and Agnes through the majority of the play refused to see Tilly’s truth, until the very last scene.”
Facing challenges is part of the role. “I think I’m a very emotionally vulnerable person. I tend to take on too much of the character.” The play is very challenging, she said, and emotionally draining.
There are a lot of intense scenes. “A really big part of my process after the show is just letting it all go and just like taking time to myself that is completely separate from the play and like destressing. Sometimes meditating if it’s bad.”
Dotimas said about the play after the performance Sunday night. “Well, I think this production is definitely something San Diego needs to see. I believe Jeffrey Ingman's friend, the director of USD's program, came and commented that it was like such an important play and that she loved it and I think that it's something that's very relevant to today...
...Topics about grief, and sexuality, and acceptance you know familial love, and I think it's just something that people would really love to see. It's not just important but also comedic and visually stunning. We have an amazing team behind our set and our props and amazing fight choreography that I think people would love to see.”
The elf-like creature connects with the rest of the cast intensely. Kylene Andrea Ferrer, 19, who plays Kaliope/Kelly, said, “For me, it was just such a rush because it was a lot of the fighting, and being as Kelly, it was a person that I have never been before because I'm also very energetic and Kaliope, she is kind of like, she is not as monotone, but she is kind of like really demanding, and like stern and she's kind of like a warrior, so being her it's just kind of like I felt so much power with her.”
Ferrer said, “A challenge that I faced playing the role of Kaliope and Kelly was connecting these two characters together, because they are definitely different from one another. Kaliope is a hard core (and kind of intimidating) warrior with so many skills and Kelly is a sweet, innocent, joyful girl who can easily get along with everyone.”
Ferrer applies to her character, “Since Kelly is such a spirited and outgoing person, people don’t take her seriously and they probably think she is childish.” "Choosing the Dark Elf was Kelly’s message to not underestimate her skills and abilities just because of her bubbly personality.”
To make it work there had to be some magic. She gives it away by saying, ‘I prepared myself for this role by looking at Kaliope’s character through Kelly’s eyes. Before starting a D&D game, a character must be filled out. I believe Kelly chose to be a Dark Elf, because in the play, the squad relied on Kaliope for information and would put herself in the face of danger when her squad needed her.”
For being her first college play, taking this role of two characters as one was a little bit overwhelming at first. “When I first started rehearsal for “She Kills Monsters” I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to portray these characters as best as I could, because I couldn’t relate to them. When I was younger, I was cheerful and kind to everyone, like Kelly, which people took advantage of my kindness. It was a pattern I’ve noticed as I got older and I’d had enough of it, so I became more tough, like Kaliope”
She kept some of her old habits, “I’m still an outgoing person, but when it’s time for business, I mean business.” “So this learning process basically showed me my past and present self. And this affected my life, because I found my story within Kelly’s story.” Ferrer likes her character so much that she said, “If Kelly was a real person, we’d be best friends, because we understand each other and our struggles of people underestimating our skills.”
She also said that the way her character Kaliope moves, she has lots of posture and poise, “It kind of morphed into me because like I'm starting to feel like her presence in me which I kinda love, because it's kinda like not only am I just portraying Kaliope, I'm also portraying Kaliope and I, and I just love it so much.”
It was an outstanding performance by someone who is pursuing acting as a passion. Angelica Tenorio, 27, an inspiring young actress studying to become a Medical Laboratory Technician, plays Vera, a high school guidance counselor, where Agnes, the protagonist, goes to Vera for counseling needs when she seems to have trouble.
Tenorio said,”Yeah, she’s a teacher and she comes to me and she starts getting me pretty worried because she’s getting involved with some weird stuff. A high school kid. She’s like 25 so I’m very concerned for her.”
Tenorio’s experience with the play personally taught her about Dungeons & Dragons. She said, “Officially, Dungeons & Dragons in ‘95 was like a safe place for all different types of nerds and geeks and people that didn’t fit in.”
For Tenorio, the learning process of acting was different. “I was two-dimensional and my director Jeffrey Ingman pointed that out and that’s why I’m the actor. I need a director to basically mold me. (laughs).’ Tenorio arrived to the drama class two weeks late after skipping "Just Like Us".
She landed a part in “She Kills Monsters” and caught up pretty fast. “Eventually, there was a lot of time for me to understand how to make this character a real life person instead of a two-dimensional person.
Developing that character really helped me just improve as an actress in general.” Her character mainly cares, she said.
One challenge Tenorio faced was the desk. If and when you see the play, or if you recall, the desk did not always roll on the stage so smoothly. “It didn’t have wheels on it before and we were trying to figure out how to move the desk out with the chairs, and we were having cue problems, and like it was really getting to me but they finally fixed it and I was able to figure it out and they put wheels on the table, thank God...
...Now all I have to worry about is acting.” She adds that there are responsibilities that come with it, and this desk was one of them.
Tenorio agrees that details are a key in theatre. “Well that’s what it’s about, you know, that’s what the theatre’s about, the details, to get trapped in the story and really believe it.
That’s the most important thing, I think, in a play. To believe the characters , to get lost in that world, so that’s always my main goal. I want people to be like ‘ is this person real?’ "
For future San Diego City College events visit sdcitycollege/events.