Sometimes pretending is the best way to make a real difference.
This is what a troupe of young actors hopes to accomplish with their production of She kills monsters, a fantastic play featuring queer characters, nerd culture, and meaningful conversations about sexuality. The show – which is presented by The Young Company at the Manitoba Theater for Young People in the New Year – follows Agnes’ story as she meets her late sister Tilly while playing a Dungeons and Dragons game. that she designed.
âIt really speaks to a lot of big issues,â says Andrew Riley, a 16-year-old company member. “Whether it’s Tilly’s struggles or even the way Agnes deals with the grief of her sister’s passing, there’s a lot going on in the lives of teenagers that isn’t always talked about.”
Tilly’s character is gay and she regains a sense of belonging to the world of D&D that is often lacking elsewhere. For Riley and fellow artist Al Gilbert, both of whom are members of the LGBTTQ + community, this kind of experience hits the mark.
“Tilly gets called insults at school by, say, mean girls and it might not be the most dramatic hate crime, but it’s realistic,” says Gilbert, 16. “Things that happen to her in the room have happened to me. I’m glad my story is told through her.”
Riley agrees. âIt’s in a small town and it’s kind of where I grew up,â he says. “You have to find your own little community to feel accepted sometimes.”
For both players, MTYP provides that kind of safe space. Young Company director Erin McGrath is happy to be back in the rehearsal studio with the 13 to 17-year-old group. In the midst of the pandemic, they managed to put on last year’s show, The Laramie project, in line.
“(It’s) a collection of interviews, so being able to adapt it to Zoom wasn’t a disappointment,” McGrath said of the production, which chronicles the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew. Shepard to Laramie, Wyo. also made me realize how articulate, intelligent and honest these young people are and how politically minded they are. ”
The success of the show prompted her to seek out other plays with queer content, a genre lacking in theater in general and even more so in theater for young audiences.
âIt’s definitely not the norm for this demographic,â McGrath says. âI wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to share with their friends and family and for an audience of their peers. And also for them to work and put on a show that really reflectedâ¦ what it’s for. them in high school – and that means a lot of good things and a lot of really bad things. ”
As the company began rehearsals for She kills monsters, which opens next March, the themes covered in the fictional story have come to life in a disappointing way. Earlier this fall, two high schools in Ohio canceled the production, one of which deemed it “inappropriate for our K-12 audience.”
When McGrath shared the news with the cast, “they had a huge emotional reaction.”
The young actors decided to launch a letter writing campaign to support the students who were to act and condemn the actions of the administrators.
“It really hurts me, honestly,” Riley said. “Because I know there’s probably a gay kid out there that’s like, ‘if the show gets canceled just because a character is gay, then what’s wrong with me ? What will happen to me? ”
“I didn’t hear any reaction from us while doing it,” Gilbert adds. “It was really telling to see that so many people hate this show for no good reason.”
Gilbert plays the role of Chuck, the narrator of the series and a dungeon master who helps Agnes play her sister’s game. Riley was cast as Orcus, a demon who steals the soul of the main character and provides a dose of comedic relief. The young actors hope Winnipeg audiences enjoy sword fighting and adventure, while also picking up on the heavier themes of bullying and prejudice depicted in the play.
âWhat happened to Tilly on the show happens every day in Winnipeg,â says Gilbert. “I want them to take advantage of it, but keep that in mind.”
âKids suck,â Riley adds, âBut when you’re in that situation, it sometimes feels like the end of the world. ”
While Young Company’s shows are often followed by friends and family, McGrath hopes She kills monsters attracts a larger crowd.
âIt sounds bigger than just entertainment,â she says. âIt’s like an opportunity for a larger community to come out and say, ‘You did it and we stand behind you. “”