Lesson of the Day: ‘Queer Kids, Nerds and Sword Fights: It’s the Hot School Play’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Queer Kids, Nerds and Sword Fights: It’s the Hot School Play’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 2021.

Featured Article: “Queer Kids, Nerds and Sword Fights: It’s the Hot School Play” by Elisabeth Vincentelli

Do you enjoy going to plays and watching performances? Are you a self-proclaimed “theater kid?” Or do you prefer being behind the scenes or in the audience? Well, “She Kills Monsters,” a play by Qui Nguyen, seems to give everyone a meaningful chance to be part of a theatrical production. The play has been making the rounds in high school auditoriums and across college campuses for years and is now making its virtual debut.

In this lesson, you will meet some of the people who have been part of “She Kills Monsters” productions across the country. Then, you will watch or read some of the play, or brainstorm and write the opening scene of your own short play.

Read the prologue (pp. 7-9) in this sample of “She Kills Monsters: Young Adventures Edition” from Concord Theatricals. Then write about or discuss with your classmates the following questions:

  • What do you notice about this play? What stands out to you about the language, characters, setting and initial conflict? Does it remind you of anything else you have seen or read before?

  • What do you wonder about the play? What predictions can you make about what it will be about?

(Note to teachers: This excerpt contains some explicit language. Please preview it to make sure it is appropriate for your students.)

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What are some of the reasons that “She Kills Monsters” has been so popular among high school and college performers and audiences? Do any of these reasons resonate with you? Why?

2. Nguyen said he had made sure “none of the roles were based on race at all.” Why was that important to him? What was the result? Do you think it is important to have racially specific characters and casting? Or do you think it is more important that anyone can play any role in a play?

3. The author writes, “Openness, tolerance and resilience are more than the show’s subjects: They are baked into its DNA.” What does she mean by that? What evidence supports that statement?

4. What are some of the ways the play has been adapted for the coronavirus era? Which adaptation would you want to watch or perform most? Why?

5. What purpose has the play served for those staging it, particularly while social distancing? What lessons or messages have you taken away from reading about this play?

Option 1: Read or Watch “She Kills Monsters”

Read the rest of the “She Kills Monsters” excerpt that you started in the warmup. Or, watch one of the many versions that are available online, like this full-length production by Arcadia Stage from March 2020. The play is almost two hours long, so if you’re short on time, you may choose to watch or read just the first act.

Then, reflect on the following questions:

  • What is your reaction to the first few scenes of the play? Do you want to read or watch more? Why? What do you think will happen next?

  • How would you describe the main characters in the play? Do you relate to any of them? How so?

  • Which lines of dialogue or stage directions help give a sense of character and place?

  • Are you familiar with Dungeons and Dragons or other role-playing games? If yes, how effectively do you think the playwright used that point of reference in the play? If you’re not familiar with the game, were you still able to follow the play and understand the humor?

(Note to teachers: This version of the play was created specifically for high school performing groups, but the script and the production contain some explicit language and innuendo. Please be sure to preview them both to make sure they are appropriate for your students.)

Option 2: Create Your Own Play

“She Kills Monsters” uses Dungeons and Dragons to tell a story about “finding your real and metaphorical families, as well as yourself.” If you were to write your own play, what would it be about?

Respond to the prompts below to make some choices about the main ingredients of your play:

  • If you like, start by brainstorming a vehicle, like Dungeons and Dragons, through which to tell your story. It can be a sport, an artistic practice, your favorite content-creating app or anything else you can imagine. This can help determine the characters, setting, conflict and theme of your play, but if it feels too limiting to you, feel free to skip this step.

  • Where does your play take place? Is it in our world? Or someplace fantastical?

  • Who are the main characters? What is their relationship to one another? Are they siblings, like in “She Kills Monsters”? Friends? Enemies?

  • What is the conflict of the story? It might be something you navigate as a teenager, such as issues with friends or parents, problems at school, or challenges in dating. How might the vehicle you identified above intensify that conflict?

  • What lesson or universal message do you want your audience to take away from the play? How can the vehicle help communicate that message?

  • You’ve identified the overall theme and conflict, so now get more specific: what is the climax of the play? What one event can show the central problem in your play? How will it be resolved?

Now that you have made decisions about these core ingredients of your play, write the first scene. It can be as short or long as you like. Be sure to include stage directions, as well as dialogue between characters. You can share some of your opening scene in the comments section of this lesson or act it out with your classmates.

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