They describe it as nerve-wracking, intense, amazing, extreme, exciting, and enlightening. It’s a taste of real-world theatre that has College of Charleston School of the Arts students hooked.
“I feel like I am a part of something bigger while working on this show,” says senior Corey Reid-Smiley, the set designer.
“She Kills Monsters” is written by playwright and pioneer of “geek theatre,” Qui Nguyen, and creatively uses special effects, stage combat and puppetry to tell the story of Agnes Evans following the death of her “weirdo” teenage sister, Tilly.
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SETTING THE SCENE
The set is unlike anything the theatre department has ever done. Reid-Smiley designed two turntables, each segmented into three completely different rooms. In the center, is a 14-foot projector screen that will incorporate video and graphics.
“This play at the heart of it has the story of people finding out who they are, or who their loved ones are. We see change in characters so I wanted the set to move and flow to support this story,” Reid-Smiley explains. “I researched Dungeons and Dragons, I watched Empire Records, and listened to Beck, No Doubt, and TLC to figure out the mood of 1995 teens.”
COMPOSING THE SCORE
Composition students wrote original music for the play, which is performed by the College of Charleston Contemporary Ensemble.
“I have done many audio recordings of classic and orchestral styles, but this project was slightly more challenging and a heck of a lot more intensive,” says senior Matt Tuton, who served as composer, engineer, and co-producer. “This project gave me a chance to help oversee a large scale production, and wear nearly all the hats involved in making something like this possible.”
Composition Professor Yiorgos Vassilandonakis has spent nearly two decades composing for movies, TV, and theatre, but this is the first time he has supervised student composers scoring a play to be produced immediately.
“This play was quite challenging from a compositional standpoint, because it’s so stylized and specific about the music it needs,” Vassilandonakis explains. “It required a wide range of musical underpinning. We composed in styles ranging from 80’s TV music to avant-garde horror type music.”
The students had a week and a half to write, organize, record, mix, and master 29 cues.
“It was fun to see everyone’s work come to life right there in the recording room,” says senior Zachary Smith. “Sometimes we were short on players, so we’d have a composer playing music and violin player composing a great scene. To see the caliber of musicians we have here all at work together was really something special to be a part of.“
SHAPING THE FUTURE
Every student involved in “She Kills Monsters” raved about the experience and said it helped to solidify their career path.
“I am interesting in writing film music, and this was a great step towards that,” senior Christy King says. “Having the boundaries of characters, setting, theme, emotion, scene, and time limits really stretched me as a composer. I was constantly thinking, ‘how do I create engaging music that will both enhance the storyline and add another dimension to the audience’s experience when attending She Kills Monsters?”
The students also agree this wouldn’t have been possible without their professors. They cited Vassilandonakis, play director and theatre professor Evan Parry, and scenic design professor Charlie Calvert.
“Charlie helps lead me in good directions but always lets me explore the show and how I feel it should look,” Reid-Smiley says. “My college experience has been amazing because of the work that I have done with Charlie. He also makes sure that we are staying sane and healthy during a show which is wonderful to have in a mentor because he understands that he is also teaching us about life, not just the theatre.”