She Kills Monsters now playing at Northeast State

Crazed fairies, bloodthirsty ogres, and monsters of all sorts populate the fantasy world of She Kills Monsters. The Northeast State Department of Theater presents this modern production running Nov. 10 to Nov. 20 by playwright Qui Nguyen. The new production continues the tradition of vividly creative and cutting edge productions from the College’s award-winning Theater Department.

“I am exceedingly proud of my students, present and former, who have really had to step up to bring this visually exciting show to life,” said Brad McKenzie, director of Monsters and technical director of Northeast State Theater (NST).

Monsters tells the story of Agnes Evans as she leaves her childhood home in Ohio following the death of her mother, father, and teenage sister, Tilly. Five years later when Agnes finds Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons notebook, however, she stumbles into a journey of discovery and adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly’s refuge.

“This production has some of the biggest spectacle and design that we have done, and that is saying something,” said Elizabeth M. Sloan, director of NST. “I am constantly amazed by Brad’s vision and the imagination he inspires in his students. Everyone has put in a lot hours to create this spectacularly fun show.”

Madison Phillips plays Tilly in flashback scenes of the fantasy world. Phillips made her NST debut in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest last spring. She followed that with the lead role of Carole in Oleanna produced earlier this year. Her memories of Tilly propels Agnes into the adventure to learn more about the sister she thought she knew.

“I think thematically the play tells a story about who people are and how they deal with life differently,” said Phillips. “Everything in this play comes from truth. It is relatable to everyone because it tells a truth about the lives people live every day.”

Haley Forbes portrays Agnes, an imaginative young woman whose yearning for exciting life brings her more adventure than she ever expected.

“I think it is a story about losing someone you love and feeling lost,” said Forbes, in her first performance with Northeast State Theater. “This is a story about loss and how Agnes deals with losing her sister and finding a connection with her, too.”

Agnes meets a wide assortment of characters and faces down many demons her sister fought through the game. Megan Proctor plays Lilith Morningstar, a feisty fairy queen wielding a battle axe. Despite Proctor’s fearsome character, she said Lilith hides a good heart.

“I feel like the play is about sisterhood,” said Proctor, a veteran Northeast State Theater performer working in her sixth production. “The bond between Tilly and Agnes carries through to the fantasy world and gives Agnes a bridge to her sister’s world where they can be together.”

The play’s overarching theme of the beloved Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game highlights not only the game but the offbeat characters involved in the game. McKenzie had the cast and crew play a game of Dungeons and Dragons to get acquainted with the game and theme of the play.

The play features a series of sword battles between the characters. Charles Clark serves as fight captain in charge of orchestrating the actors’ fight scenes and keeping cast members in one piece. He also portrays the evil lord of the underworld Orcus who is bent on destroying Agnes.

“The costume and sword I use are well done that it is exciting to wear,” said Clark. “I feel like a lot of the fantasy elements of the play translate into the real world. You need to keep an open mind and roll through the bad times to get to the good.”

Building the weapons and armor fell to theater shop foreman and Northeast State alumnus Richard Curtis. An award-winning creative designer and theater veteran, Curtis returns to Northeast State after completing his bachelor’s degree in Theater at King University. The weapons wielded by the characters are formed with foam coated with resin to provide the hard structure needed for effect.

“Each weapon has its own identity and purpose,” said Curtis. “Brad and Elizabeth told me about the play and asked if I wanted to be involved and I said, ‘Of course, I do!'”

Richard Curtis wields one of his weapons.
Richard Curtis wields one of his newly created weapons.

Designing the creature prosthetics, character masks, and large wearable wings fell to Northeast State alumnus and Theater veteran Dustin Lawson. Inspired by the game’s characters, Lawson sketched out monsters well known to D&D players and created masks to reflect them.

“These are most prosthetics I’ve ever made for a show so, yes, many long hours have been put in by all of us,” said Lawson, now an ETSU student majoring in Theater. “My biggest thing is actor comfort so I’m always asking how the masks feel and how they need to be adjusted.”

Dustin Lawson creating one of many
Dustin Lawson creating one of many “monsters” for the play.

Marty France brought his skills to costuming a cast of regular and fantasy world characters. France’s work with costuming as well as hair and makeup has been showcased in numerous Northeast State Theater productions including Steel Magnolias and The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe.

“Brad and Elizabeth focus a lot on us respecting each other so the crew and cast understand what each other brings to the table in each production,” he said. “I love that so many new people are coming into the program.”

Marty France with a character costume from Monsters.
Marty France with a character costume from Monsters.

Agnes dealing with the loss of her family and expectations of a new life with her fiancé Miles (Aaron Musselwhite). The relationship between Agnes and Miles changes as she searches for answers and looks for strength on her quest.

“Agnes and Miles knew each other superficially, but through her quest they get to know each other in a very deep way,” said Musselwhite. “The story tells you how there are times not everything is going to go how you planned, and you need to take a second to enjoy the moments you live in every day.”

Puppet Designer Ashley Guy sits in the mouth of a dragon she is creating for
Puppet Designer Ashley Guy sits in the mouth of a dragon she is creating.

Ashley Guy took on the formidable job of Puppet Master designing and building seven large puppet figures from dragons to an enormous planetoid head. An experienced costume designer and crew member in multiple NST productions, Guy took on the new design challenge and began sketching her creations last summer. Armed with raw materials and her imagination, Guy created a posse of dragon puppets that add to the night

“I think people feel like Dungeons and Dragons is some game nerds play, but if they knew how fun it was they would think about playing, too,” said Guy, a longtime D&D player.  “Even though this is a community college, we are putting on some amazing plays with top-notch values and some of the best productions around.”

While the play delves into adult and sensitive themes, cast and crew members agreed the show was not about prurient shock value. The play used fantasy and comedy to ask critical and universal questions about human beings and where we all fit in the world.

The play involves mature themes and strong adult language and is recommended for audiences ages 18 and older. She Kills Monsters is produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. Tickets are $10 and admission is free to currently enrolled Northeast State students with valid identification. The play’s performance dates are Nov. 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 13 and 20 at 2:00 p.m. in the WRCPA Theater.

For tickets, visit www.northeaststate.edu/theatre or contact Northeast State Theater at 423.354.5169 or e-mail emsloan@NortheastState.edu.

I, Ebenezer opens tonight at Northeast State/Blountville

The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge has fascinated generations of audiences with its universal themes of greed, loss, class, and redemption. The Northeast State Department of Theatre brings this classic back to the stage with I, Ebenezer, a brilliant and original retelling of Scrooge’s Christmas adventure.

Adapted from the beloved tale A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the play is a family friendly production that deals with the human side of the beloved holiday story. I, Ebenezer tells the story of bitter old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, head of a multinational company that specializes in steam-powered robots.

Playing Scrooge is Richard Jackson, an actor who continues to stretch his range of performances from Ben in Night of the Living Dead, to Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, and Peter in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

“This play opens up his life and you get to see and understand why Scrooge became so bitter and angry; honestly, it was the most emotionally taxing play I’ve done,” said Jackson. “As in Christmas Carol, he finds what made him happy was to have a giving heart. In this play, the audience gets the insight on that change of heart and his rebirth.”

Written and directed by Northeast State Theatre faculty member Brad McKenzie, the play’s motif reflects the steampunk storytelling genre where the world’s technology operates on steam power. McKenzie wrote the adaptation after facing a crossroads in his own life.

“This is the second play I have written and directed, and while some of the underlying themes and subtext are very personal to me, it is also universal to the human experience,” said McKenzie who is also directing the play. “I am so impressed with my amazing cast and designers. I have pushed them hard on this production, and it has been a joy to see them grow as artists and human beings.”

Caitlin Haltom portrays Eliza Scrooge, Ebenezer’s wife and confidant typically unseen as a character in the story. Eliza plays a pivotal role in her husband’s life. She noted the transformation during the play of Scrooge as he is referred early on to the more humanized “Ebenezer”.

“She’s a strong-willed, loyal wife who knew Ebenezer the way he once was,” said Haltom. “Her presence is really important to the growth of the story and how the characters and their styles relate to the audience.”

Ebenezer also shifts the characters of Eliza Scrooge and Sarah Cratchit from the shadows to the spotlight. Both women play prominent roles influencing their husbands and the storyline.

Sarah Cratchit is played by Hannah Duncan, a theatre major performing in her fifth production with NST. Duncan aspires to be a director and has done yeoman work on stage and behind the curtain during her two years with Northeast State Theatre. Her portrayal of Sarah stands strong for her family and against Scrooge taking advantage of her husband.

“Where Bob Cratchit is passive and let’s things happen without much fight, Sara is very fierce and proud,” said Duncan, “She emulates the things she sees among the wealthier people and strives to take what the family has earned to let people know even though I am poor, I matter.”

Heather Christian portrays Marlene, an original character who combines the roles of ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. She whisks Scrooge away on his time-traveling journey giving him and the audience a peek into what turned Scrooge into the man he has become.

“I think Marlene feels pity for Scrooge in watching what he was and what he becomes,” said Christian. “She, like all the female characters in this version are strong women, which to me is really cool.”

Make-up designer Dustin Lawson went to work putting the faces on the human and robot characters. He recruited assistant make-up designer Lorrie Anderson to create the Victorian-meets-steam look for the characters.

“The only steampunk themed make-up we do is for Marley-bot so we used bronze with brown and gold colors,” said Lawson. “We were given a good amount of freedom to come up with designs that fit the characters.”

Anderson makes her first foray into design with this production. A theatre major at Northeast State, she played Lucy in the NST’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and has performed onstage at Theatre Bristol and the Johnson City Community Theatre.

“I love designing, but I have an affinity for acting,” she said. “Joining the technical crew for this I gained such great respect for them because it so difficult to do this work. Brad and Elizabeth (Sloan) truly foster respect between actors and crews in every production.”

Austin Sparks portrays Marley-bot, a first-generation automaton who provides comic relief during the play’s darker moments. Named for its inventor Jacob Marley, Sparks underwent a significant make-up and costume transformation to become the play’s only speaking robot. Trained in forensics and pantomime performing, Sparks spends up to 90 minutes getting into make-up and costume for his role.

“Marley-bot fills in the dark scenes of the play and reflects the personality of his creator, so whenever there is a particular dark scene, he is there to lift your spirits,” said Sparks, a computer programming major. “I took inspiration from the C3P0 droid character in Star Wars the way he moves and responds to people.”

Costuming these past and futuristic characters is Marty France, a theatre major, with extensive stage experience. France has overseen the creation of more than 20 costumes to frame the Ebenezer characters.

“The costuming and make-up stage shops are right in the same room so we could collaborate and say, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea,’ ” said France. “It is a challenge for each character but once you have that idea in your head to do what you want it will come together.”

Elizabeth M. Sloan, the play’s producer and director of Northeast State Theatre, says I, Ebenezer captures all the story’s essential elements while giving students an opportunity to use their imaginations and what they’ve learned.

“I’m proud of this production. I think it is so brave that Brad is willing to push himself artistically by writing this innovative adaptation of such a beloved and classic story,” said Sloan. “His willingness to risk and push himself out of his comfort zone artistically is inspiring for not only for me but for our students. They have really taken on the design, acting and technical challenges beautifully. I’m so proud of all of their work.”

Many Ebenezer cast and crew member are prepared to graduate from Northeast State next spring. This play and the spring production of The Laramie Project mark the end of sorts to their collaborative efforts as students.

“Brad and Elizabeth work very hard to teach students and actors and technical crew to have respect for each other,” said Lawson. “We’ve been together in many productions, and whenever they do a musical I’m coming back!”

Northeast State Theatre students have won acclaim and awards from the Region IV Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for four consecutive years. The program’s reputation gives students moving to four-year institutions considerable respect from academic and theatre professionals alike.

Performance dates are Dec. 4 -6 and Dec. 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. Two matinees will be performed on Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 and free to Northeast State students who present valid student identification.

For information about tickets or how to purchase tickets call the Box Office at 423.354.5169 or email Travis Brooks at tcbrooks@northeaststate.edu.