Westridge Theater Takes on Action-Packed Play “She Kills Monsters”

From November 4th to November 6th, Westridge’s Theater Department performed its first play with stage fighting in around eight years: She Kills Monsters. By American-Vietnamese playwright Qui Nguyen, She Kills Monsters is a play characterized by scenes filled with action and fantasy as characters come to grasp concepts such as friendship, loss, and acceptance. 

Brandon Kruhm, Director of the Theater Department, had wanted to do this play for several years, as it is one of the most popular shows in America according to the New York Times, and includes LGBTQ representation and aspects of Dungeons and Dragons—a well-liked game by the Westridge community. 

“[She Kills Monsters] was actually a really exciting prospect for me and to have our students have the opportunity to work with a professional fight choreographer, and learn all the different skills and techniques that go into staging fights,” said Mr. Kruhm. 

As She Kills Monsters has fight scenes throughout the play, the Theatre Department hired Celina Surniak, professional fight and intimacy director in the Los Angeles area, to prepare students for this aspect of the show. 

“I found Westridge students to be extremely professional. They picked up hard choreography really fast, and worked hard to make sure that they were getting everything correct,” said Surniak. “They also were asking for more complicated stuff, which was really cool. I don’t get that a lot from adults.”

Cast practice their scenes on stage, getting used to the platforms. (Westridge Theatre)

Surniak worked with Westridge students twice a week and began with a fight camp, where she taught students the basics of moving with a sword, rolling, stabbing, and more. Then, she proceeded with a collaborative method she calls “organic choreography,” where she prompted students to consider how their characters would act in certain situations and use their inputs when choreographing. 

“The way Celina choreographs is very naturalistic, I think. It’s a combination of an idea of what she wants it to look like in the beginning and things she comes up with on the spot and whatever feels natural to us,” said Izzy C. ’23, who played the character Tilly. 

The number of fight scenes surprised Izzy. “This was a show that had plot points that relied on the fights. I think a lot of our most pivotal emotional beats happened during fights,” she said. To accommodate for this aspect of the play, Izzy ran through all her lines twice daily during Senior Week, and, as stage managers recorded many of the fights, she would often look back on recordings as she practiced choreography. 

Cindy Lin, Scenic and Properties Designer, also had to take stage fighting into consideration as she designed the set. “I always make a miniature model of a design so that I always check how that looks from the viewpoint of an audience member,” she said. “It’s a lot of mathematics essentially.” She and her team started preparing the set and designs from summer to early autumn. 

Before constructing the actual sets, Cindy creates a miniature model with a scale of half an inch equals one foot. (Cindy Lin)

With the hard work and dedication put in by the cast and crew members, Westridge’s production of She Kills Monsters was a success, and the stage fighting was well liked by the audience.