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A Q&A with the Upstate Theatre cast of "She Kills Monsters"

By Jessica Caldwell

For four days this November, the Upstate Theatre is putting on a must-see performance of Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters. It is a drama filled comedy filled with hilarious characters that are easily relatable despite being fantasy-based.

The main character is Agnes, played by senior Mikayla Purcell, is faced with the death of her parents and sister, Tilly. As she prepares to leave her family’s home, she finds her sister’s notebook. Inside the notebook, it contains Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons world. Tilly is played by senior Jamaya Paulding, and the dungeon master that guides her through Tilly’s fantasy world is played by sophomore Braylon Covington.

The play follows Agnes as she finds herself pulled into an adventure of self-discovery as she navigates through the fantasy world created by her sister. The world leads to action packed adventure that will have you laughing as she meets supermodel elves and faces trolls and even some homicidal fairies along the way. It is filled with some throwback 90s pop culture that will pull you into Agnes’ journey of dealing with the loss of her family and discovering who she truly is and the sister she never really knew.

The three leading actors give us some insight into the production and why the show has something for everyone to enjoy. They have been pouring their hearts and soul into bringing to life a story that will touch those who see it at the same time keep you laughing.

Question: Let us start with you telling us a little about yourselves.

Mikayla: My name is Mikayla Purcell. I am a double major at USC upstate. I majored in theater and history theater with a performance concentration, and I'm from Greenville, South Carolina. I've lived here my whole life, and I just moved to Spartanburg about two weeks ago.

Braylon: I'm Braylon Covington, a computer science major here at upstate. I'm a sophomore, and this is my first time doing anything involving theater. I've been here in the upstate for my entire life.

Jamaya: And I'm Jamaya Paulding. I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. I am a theater performance major and I'm a senior.

Question: Braylon, you said this is your first time acting. Wow! What about you guys how long have you been acting?

M: I’ve been acting in theater since my late sophomore year in high school. So, this would be my eighth year.

J: And I started acting in my junior year of college.

Q: What made you try out for She Kills Monsters? And more specifically the roles you are playing?

M: I love the story, I love D&D, Dungeons and Dragons is such a cool game. It's got fantasy and everything you could possibly want out of the game. And so, when I read the script, I was just enticed by the story of a girl who wanted to find herself through her siblings, who she lost and discovered that love that they have together, but also discover a new version of herself and the journey she takes is quite phenomenal. So.

B: I also love Dungeons and Dragons. I've been playing since the pandemic and seeing that they were putting on a production Dungeons and Dragons involved was was I was excited. And really it was a friend who I've got on crew who convinced me, yeah, you should try out just to see if you get it. I tried out. I got a role and apparently, it's one of the leads. It's in total, so. And here I am. It's been a great experience.

J: I wanted to audition because it was different. I've been in a lot of dramatic pieces, and I wanted something completely different that incorporated stage combat, which I was really interested about. So, I really, I really auditioned because I wanted a role that was completely different from the ones that I've already played, and I wanted some challenges that I have not come across until now.

Q: Before this role had anyone besides Braylon ever played D & D?

M: Yes, oh, yes.

J: No, not me

Q: Would you be willing to try since the experience from working on this production?

J: Yes, of course, with some people who like to act as well, because I think that would make it even more lively.

Q: What would you each like to have the audience take from your performances and the play?

M: I personally just want the audience to have a good time to have fun. I think the pandemic, because it still touches us today. Theater is such an important part of our lives. And if you're seeing show after show that deals with really difficult messages and are really sad and depressing, you want something that's uplifting and fun. And this show kind of does everything it makes you feel. It touches a lot of issues that are still current, but you get to enjoy this game like aspect. You get to meet all these fairy tale creatures in this group of friends, and you get to learn their stories. And I want the audience to kind of take away that sense of, I can have fun and still learn a lot from that.

B: I love how one of the messages in the play is that Dungeons and Dragons is a great form of escapism and allows you to play out fantasies that you otherwise wouldn't get to, and that is very true to Dungeons and Dragons. It's an amazing way to just one have fun, but also play out some fantasies that you might not be able to hear in real life. It's really fun to do, and I hope any members in the audience who have been hesitant about playing Dungeons and Dragons after seeing this, maybe give it a try, give it a shot. It's really fun.

J: Right. I want the audience to just have fun, but I also want them to take away that there are things you can try that are new, and from the outside it might not seem fun, but once you get into it, you'll have lots of fun with. And I think that's exactly how people see Dungeons and Dragons. From the outside, they might think, oh no, that's too much. But when you actually get into it, you'll love it.

Q: And what are y’all taking away from the roles that you’re getting?

M: Um, I would say for Agnes, something that really touched me was, I think the loss of of Tillie. I really took the sense away of, like, I wouldn't know how I would act if I lost a sibling. And I know people who have lost siblings too early. And I know that there are people who regret not getting to know their sibling or someone in their life that they've gone too soon. And I really wanted. I've been taking away that sense of how I deal with loss and making that sincere, but also learning from Agnes that it's okay to to try new things and to grow as a person and to take that into my regular life. And that's just been something really beautiful to kind of discover for.

B: Being Chuck and playing Dungeon Master during a game for Agnes has made me realize that it can really be a healing experience, something a therapeutic for some people. And I am a Dungeon master's in real life myself. And now I've seen this. I hope that if any of my players need to sort of heal through something, that perhaps this is a way in which I could help them, and also just the experience and acting in general. This is so new for me. It's been great getting out of my shell and to have something else and new to do. I feel like it's really built me as a person as well.

J: For Tilly, which is a big one because she's all she's dead. I think it is really about cherishing the people that you have while they're alive. I know a lot of people can have regrets, you know, not paying a lot of attention to a loved one before they pass. But this play can really show you that you shouldn't. You shouldn't neglect anyone. You shouldn't neglect anyone because you may regret losing them and not being able to do what you wanted to do or say what you wanted to say when they were.

Q: Okay, imagine nobody knows anything about the play Dungeons and Dragons that are completely fresh. In one sentence or two sentences, how would you get them to come see the play?

M: Oh. Do you want to take this first?

B: Uh, yeah, if you want to. If you want a funny show with good fights, a wicked surprise at the end. Um, just come and see the show. It's good fun. I think you're going to like it.

M: I would say. If you want to see a show that deals with loss, acceptance of yourself, and discovering new ideas with a twist of fantasy and mystical magic, this is the show to see.

J: I would say if you want to see a show that's action packed, colorful and a lot of movement that keep you up, this is the show to come see.

Q: For the final question, what are your final thoughts on the rehearsals, the play in its entirety and opening night just a few days away, how do you think it is going to go?

M: The show has been such a breath of fresh air. It's been so nice to just get with a group of people. No drama. Fun every single day. I mean, right now we're in tech. We're getting everything together. The lighting, the costumes are beautiful. Cast and crew has just done so much work in five weeks, and it's really just waiting for the audience to get here, because once they get here, the show is going to go and go and it's not going to stop. And really just it's been such a blessing to be with everybody in that.

B: I'd really like to highlight this experience as a person new to this environment as a whole. It's been such great fun to meet all these wonderful people and play out this role in something I never really imagined that I would do. I love plays, I go to see them all the time. I never thought of myself, oh, I'll be up there one day. But having this experience, it's whoa, okay, this is pretty fun. I hope just hearing this encourages anybody to take a step out of your comfort zone. Just take a shot in the dark and hopefully you'll have fun with that.

J: I’d say the rehearsal process been completely fun. Lighthearted. We've been making new discoveries to this day. We have not been stuck in our characters. We we just really have fun with everything that we do because of the fact that it's fantasy. And a lot of people love Dungeons and Dragons that are casted in this play is we learn new things every day from each other.

Don’t miss this performance if you love to laugh, cry, or just need to get away from reality as She Kills Monsters has a little bit of everything. The cast and crew have been rehearsing and creating a new world for you to enjoy.

The curtain goes up on November 9, 10, and 11th at 7:30 p.m., with a final performance on Nov. 12 at 3:30 p.m. The box office will open one hour before the show starts. The performance is only 5 dollars for all students, faculty, and staff; and 10 dollars for everyone else.

Make sure to mark your calendars because She Kills Monsters is only here for a few days, and it is going to be a memorable experience for everyone that sees the show.

Photo Credit: Michael DeLorm Assistant Professor of Theater

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