Editor’s note: Listen Up is a Q&A featuring locals in the arts and culture community.
This week: Arthur Grothe, a UW-Eau Claire theater professor who is directing the department’s production of “She Kills Monsters.” The show runs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16, at Pablo Center at the Confluence’s Jamf Theatre, 128 Graham Ave.
What is “She Kills Monsters” about?
It follows the journey of Agnes Evans, and it starts off very sad, but ... it’s actually very funny. The beginning is she lost her sister and parents in a car accident. In cleaning out her sister’s room, she comes across a “Dungeons & Dragons” journal. She knows it was something her sister was really into, but she never really got into it, so she finds somebody to teach her how to play it.
From there, it becomes Agnes’ journey, not just through the game, but navigating through her own grief and how she comes to terms with the death of her family. “Dungeons & Dragons” is just a vehicle to tell the story, rather than a focal point.
Why did the department select this show?
We were looking for something that gave us some creative freedom to play, and, because this is the first show we’re doing in the Jamf Theatre (at Pablo Center), how do we use that space?
And it’s a show that gives us a chance to flex our creative muscles. We staged it in-the-round with our audience all around us and four screens on each side, along with projections on the floor. That’s a unique challenge.
What do you enjoy about this show?
It plays in some ways with what theater as an art form can be. It’s fantastical at some moments and really grounded and realistic in others. The playwright is really pushing the envelope in what it means to do theater: How can we tell these poignant stories in creative and engaging ways?
What is difficult about directing this show?
We have to fight a number of fantastical creatures like a giant gelatinous cube, a five-headed dragon, a dark elf and a demon queen. So what line do we draw in terms of is this more campy, more serious, realistic or a little more playful? In a couple of those moments, we skew in a few directions.
In terms of staging, in-the-round is a challenge because you’re trying to keep actors moving so people are getting different perspectives. No matter where we put somebody, they are going to have their backs to someone. How do we move them in a way that seems somewhat justified?
And finding a balance between the moments of humor and moments of great gravitas. There are several scenes with the sisters that exist between not quite reality and not quite fantasty that get to some poignant scenes in Agnes’ grieving process.
Have you answered any of those questions?
I think so. Some of it will be lighting, some will be the set.
The group of student actors really jumped in head first and committed a ton of energy and time. One of the ways we’ve accomplished so much is that group as a cast has really come together, supported and encouraged each other.
Are you excited about performing in the Jamf Theatre?
Part of what we wanted to do with the first show in there is choose something that could take advantage of the flexibility of the space and reimagine what it could be for the time we’re in there. That’s already been accomplished in terms of how we’re setting the stage up and technical elements. I’m excited to see where else we can go with it.
Why should people come to the show?
It’s important, especially for people who are LGBTQ. Without giving anything else away, that also is a huge component in this show.
It gets to poignant issues of identity and some revalations Agnes didn’t really know about her sister. There’s a great, truthful human story at its heart. It gives the audience a chance to engage in their imaginations with all the spectacle that will accompany it. But it’s not spectacle for the spectacle’s sake.
— Katy Macek