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The Show Goes On at VCU with Virtual Play

Nakira Seymour in costume
Nakira Seymour is a VCU theater student, playing Agnes in She Kills Monsters. Costume design by Kirsten Katt, virtual background by Acadia Khan. (Photo: Tatjana/VCU Theatre)

When Nakira Seymour was cast in the role of Agnes in VCU Theatre’s "She Kills Monsters," she knew the pandemic would make it a unique production. To comply with COVID-19 restrictions, the play - pre-recorded and edited - will be streamed online.

Seymour says that because most of the filming took place in actors’ homes, they’ve had to take on extra responsibilities. “Usually as an actor you don’t have to decorate the space or set dress, but this time we did,” Seymour said. “I have so much more respect for just the crew in general, ‘cause it’s a lot to do.”

Play poster
Tickets to stream She Kills Monsters are available online. (Photo: VCU Theatre Department)

The play was originally written by New York-based writer Qui Nguyen in 2011, but was updated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with changes designed to facilitate online performances. “In the Zoom reality there’s certain things you can do and certain things you can’t do,” said Sharon Ott, chair of the theatre department and one of the play’s directors. “It’s really in many ways more like shooting a film than doing a play.”

She Kills Monsters takes inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons, melding grounded drama in the real world and a fantasy setting. Prop master Alyssa Sutherland says that was a challenge and an opportunity for the set designers, who created detailed Zoom backgrounds to supplement traditional sets: “So when the characters are in the DnD world, everything behind them, around them is going to be illustrated.”

Elf girl in costume
Olivia Knight as Kaliope. Costume design by Kirsten Katt, virtual background by Acadia Khan. (Photo: Olivia Knight/VCU Theatre)

“Going into the production, we were mainly thinking it was going to be all over Zoom,” Seymour said. But as filming continued, she says they gradually introduced more locations: “We’ve just been expanding so much off of Zoom to where we can get some sky in there - just adding a bit of realism to balance it out.”

The play is dedicated to Lisa Anne Phipps, a manager of Crème de la Crème in Carytown and VCU alumna, who unexpectedly passed away last spring. Phipps’s family and the Carytown Merchants Association helped support the play in Phipps’s memory. “Her family thought something theatrical was really a great tribute to her,” Ott said.

The play will stream October 28-30 and November 5-6, and tickets can be purchased online.