"She Kills Monsters" Q&A: Interviews with the Director & Producer

Fall play rehearsal

Junior Alanis Rivera (left) as Agnes and senior Michelle Soto as Tilly rehearse their roles in this year's fall play, "She Kills Monsters." Opening night is Friday, Oct. 29. (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca)

PHOTO GALLERY: For pictures of cast and crew members preparing for "She Kills Monsters," check out this photo gallery.

It's going to be quite the Halloween weekend as in-person theater returns to Elmwood Park High School!

This year's fall play, "She Kills Monsters," will be performed Oct. 29, 30 and 31 in the school auditorium.

The production will be the first in-person theatrical performance at EPHS since March 2020, when "Shrek" took center stage right before the State of Illinois declared a COVID lockdown for schools.

Mr. Noah Pligge, a veteran of EPHS productions, is the show's director, and Mr. Grant McEachern makes his Elmwood Park theater debut as producer and stage-crew manager.

Tickets are $5, with free admission for students, staff and senior citizens.

Showtimes will be:

  • 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29
  • 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30
  • 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31

Written by Qui Nguyen, "She Kills Monsters" debuted off-off Broadway in November 2011 at the Flea Theater in New York City.

The New York Times has described "She Kills Monsters" as a "spirited play about finding your real and metaphorical families, as well as yourself, through Dungeons & Dragons."

In response to popular demand, Nguyen wrote a "Young Adventurers Edition" of the play in which the main character, Agnes, is a high school student instead of an English teacher.

This version, which also features language more suitable for a young cast and audience, has made "She Kills Monsters" a popular choice among high school theater programs.

The play — a mix of drama and comedy — revolves around Agnes (played in the EPHS version by junior Alanis Rivera), whose younger sister, Tilly (senior Michelle Soto), dies in a car crash. Agnes reads a notebook that her sister left behind and realizes how little she knew about Tilly.

This includes Tilly's love of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and the fact that she had a girlfriend. Agnes is guided through the unfamiliar world of D&D by Chuck (senior Magnus Shipinski), a friend of Tilly's and Dungeon Master for the game.

Chuck and Agnes in "She Kills Monsters"

PHOTO: Senior Magnus Shipinski plays Chuck, who guides Agnes (junior Alanis Rivera) and the audience through the world of Dungeons & Dragons in "She Kills Monsters," this year's EPHS fall play. Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Mr. Pligge, the EPHS director, describes "She Kills Monsters" as a "story about kids who make up stories, a story where girls wield swords, queer kids are cool, and where nerds rule the world! It's a story about a familial struggle, and finding your real and metaphorical family, as well as yourself. You're just going to have to come see to find out who 'she' is!"

EPHS stage-crew members began working on the sets and technical elements in mid-September, and cast rehearsals have been going on since Sept. 21. Scroll down this page to see a full listing of the cast and crew or use these links for quick access:

To learn more about the production, see the Q&A below with Mr. Pligge, the director, and Mr. McEachern, the producer/crew manager. The interviews were conducted via email by District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca.

Fall play

PHOTO: Junior Alanis Rivera (left) portrays Agnes and senior Michelle Soto plays her sister, Tilly, in "She Kills Monsters." Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Q&A with Noah Pligge & Grant McEachern

Why was this play chosen? To put it another way, why do you think “She Kills Monsters” would appeal to a high school audience?

Mr. Pligge (director): I have been looking to do a show that focuses on queer identity and an underdog theme for quite a while. In the times we are living in now, it seemed most appropriate to showcase these great themes! I mean, who doesn’t love a world where you can be whatever you want!?

Mr. McEachern (producer/crew manager): "She Kills Monsters" confronts strained sibling relationships, friendships, self-discovery, and all that while playing a game of D&D. There's so much in here that connects with the high school experience, and it's one of the primary reasons we chose this show.

How was the play chosen? What did the selection process involve?

Mr. Pligge (director): Mr. McEachern and I were discussing what would be best for our first show back in person. We went back and forth deciding if we wanted to do a short one act or if we wanted to jump into a full show. I have been a huge fan of "She Kills Monsters" for a while but just never had a chance to do it anywhere! I felt that the message of inclusivity was a perfect theme to showcase.

Mr. McEachern (producer/crew manager): Noah shared a number of plays he thought would be good fits and then we discussed what would make the most sense with the students we have and the time frame we are working with. We had a lot of students interested in auditioning for a part so we had to make sure to go with a play that had more roles. Plus with the performances happening on Halloween weekend, "She Kills Monsters" just made sense!

This will be the first in-person theatrical production at EPHS since the 2020 spring musical, "Shrek." EPHS recently had its first in-person concert since March 2020 with Kaleidoscope ‘21. What does it feel like to be working and rehearsing with students again in person? 

Mr. Pligge (director): It is very different. Being fully virtual last year, you were able to grab onto some sort of the past. This year, with masks, it is a totally different experience. We are able to focus more on body language rather than facial expressions. However, as an educator you are always looking out for the safety of the students. I spend a lot of time monitoring social distancing and correct mask wearing. When blocking scenes, I made sure that things aren't as close as they usually are. It takes us twice as long to get through things now. I feel the stress of that, and I can see in the student's eyes that they see it as well.

Mr. McEachern (producer/crew manager): At the Kaleidoscope concert I shared that this was the first performance in a long time where my level of stress was actually surpassed by my excitement to perform. There has been something significant missing from our lives these last 20 months without theater and music performances. The experience of collective emotion as humans on stage and in the audience share in a unique moment, the moment when all of your time, energy, effort, passion and skills all come together at once, the feeling of creating something powerful, beautiful and meaningful that is bigger than just one person — all of these things have been lacking in the last two years, and I think the students and I are thrilled to be able to do this again.

Mr. Pligge, in what ways are your rehearsals different from those that took place before COVID?

Mr. Pligge (director): I focus more on making sure the individual students are comfortable with what they are doing. Everything takes a bit longer. It is harder to get the students at rehearsal since everything else at school is going at 100 percent. We have always had the students in the program who are involved throughout school. Since nobody had anything last year, everything is now the most important thing. I spend a lot of rehearsal time planning and educating the students on time management.

Fall play rehearsal

PHOTO: Director Noah Pligge instructs cast members during a recent rehearsal of "She Skills Monsters." Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Mr. McEachern, this is your second year at EPHS, but this is your first theatrical production here. How have things been going?

Mr. McEachern (producer/crew manager): It's been a little bit of trial by fire this year! We have had a number of things go wrong right off the bat (the basement flooded, our saw broke, and the lighting board stopped working), but now things are flowing smoothly and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot largely because we have an exceptional group of student leaders. The crew leaders really stepped up this year and took on a lot of ownership and responsibility in every area of the production. Thank you Joey, Lizbeth, Adam, Jacob, Kamil, Lety and Olivia!

Fall play crew

PHOTO: Producer/crew manager Grant McEachern oversees a recent crew session preparing the set for "She Kills Monsters." Click image for larger view (District 401 photo by Dave Porreca).

Each production has its own particular set of challenges. Beyond those posed by COVID, what have been the major challenges you’ve encountered in preparing for "She Kills Monsters," and how have your cast and crew members responded?

Mr. Pligge (director): We did not plan enough time for everything I wanted to get done. I am a perfectionist and intense. Losing weeks we normally have made me not be so nice on the memorization front. However, it provides a lot of teachable moments during rehearsals.

Mr. McEachern (producer): As I mentioned before, there have been a myriad of challenges to this production. We started a little late, we're working with a lot of new students, there have been several new tech elements that we are learning how to use, plus we've had to replace our light board and miter saw. Every step along the way, the students have rallied and worked together to figure things out. They have been creative, persistent and willing to go the extra mile to learn a new thing or help teach other students.

From your perspectives as director and producer/crew manager, what are some of the highlights that audiences can expect to see when they attend the production?

Mr. Pligge (director): Alanis Rivera is a pristine actress. She commands the stage as Agnes and makes everything believable. Magnus Shipinski brings the best nerdy D&D vibe to the whole show as Chuck, our guide to Dungeons & Dragons. He leads us through the plot even if you have never played or heard of D&D before. 

Mr. McEachern (producer/crew manager): There will be a number of student-created projection elements throughout the show that I am particularly excited about. We've had a great group of graphic designers working on these for the last few weeks, and I’ve been really impressed with what they came up with to help tell the story.

Is there anything else you’d like to comment on or mention that we haven’t covered?

Mr. Pligge (director): I am so grateful to have this opportunity to direct again at EPHS. This place has allowed me to develop and deepen my relationship with theater education. I am very thankful for the students who continue to come back to put on such great shows!

Mr. McEachern (producer/crew manager): I think we covered it all!

"She Kills Monsters" | Cast

  • Agnes: Alanis Rivera (11th)
  • Tilly: Michelle Soto (12th)
  • Chuck: Magnus Shipinski (12th)
  • Miles: Dounia Timejardine-Zomeno (11th)
  • Vera/The Beholder: Teegan Walsh (11th)
  • Orcus/Ronnie: Mark Klockenkemper (12th)
  • Kaliope/Kelly: Jesica Didani (12th)
  • Lilith/Lilly: Lucianna Afryl (12th)
  • Narrator: Isabella Butler (9th)
  • Steve: Mark Javier (12th)
  • Farrah the Faerie: Da’Nyla Walker (10th)
  • Evil Gabbi: Delilah Quintanar (12th)
  • Evil Tina: Mia Lockwood (9th)
  • Ensemble: Avery Ali (12th), Angelina Melling (11th), Zoe Rice (9th), Michael Rominski (10th), Olivia Shipinski (9th)

"She Kills Monsters" | Crew

  • Stage Manager: Joey Goff (12th)
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Lizbeth Serrano (12th)
  • Crew Members: Emilio Barajas (12th), Adam Bischoff (12th), Jamie Boch (9th), Bella Butler (9th), Evan Bylina (12th), Mya Calderon (12th), Alexie Cardona (9th), Jack Craig (11th), Elisabetta Cruz (10th), Uriel Delgado (12th), Olivia Dombek (11th), Lyla Esparza (9th), George Gauthier (12th), Joevan Guerrero (12th), Enrique Hernandez (12th), Mark Javier (12th), Ellie Johnson (11th), Jacob Laufer (11th), Danielle Mihalo (12th), Kacper Mikolon (9th), Jason Moerlien (12th), Izabella Molina (9th), Marco Mondragon (11th), Alex Musial (10th), Kamil Musial (12th), Sofia Narozhanska (9th), Xiomara Nieto (9th), Jestin Nieto-Brown (11th), Toni Nunez (9th), Jacob Peralta (12th), Samuel Perez (12th), Kevin Ramirez-Gonzalez (12th), Giovanni Rodriguez (9th), Sophia Rodriguez (9th), Victor Sandoval (12th), Kayla Solano (11th), Caty Vega (9th), Lety Vega (11th), Laila Velasquez (9th), Harmony Velez (11th), Perseis Walls (9th), Divina Zamudio (9th)

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