SHE KILLS MONSTERS
Nancy T. Hansen Theatre at Purdue University Theatre
She Kills Monsters
Written by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Amy Lynn Budd
Sound Design by Zackery A. Bennett
Music Composition by Jeff Sherwood
Music Composition Concept
Qui Nguyen tells a captivating story of grief, loss, and growth centered around high school teacher Agnes Evans. Agnes’ world gets turned upside down when her kid sister Tilly suddenly dies in a car accident. She decides to dive into Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons game to find out more about her sister. In this world of magic, violence, and confrontation, Agnes is put into new situations and challenged through battles, both physically and emotionally.
Agnes is devastated when she finds out her sister was a lesbian and was bullied in high school. She realizes how much she ignored Tilly’s life and now there is no way to bring her back. Overcome by grief, Agnes wants to quit the game. Something within her urges her to keep going, and in a moment of growth she picks up the game again. Agnes finds healing, forgiveness, and hope. Nothing is more important to her than her sister, and that drives her to beat her ultimate fears in an epic battle with the Tiamat dragon monster.
This production was a collaborative effort in achieving the real world of Agnes’ workplace and the fantastical game world of Tilly’s D&D adventure. In discussions with the director and sound designer, we found that Agnes is on a journey of discovery, and though she thinks she is discovering her sister, she discovers herself in the end. While a normal person on the outside, she is full of fear and doubt on the inside. Tilly challenges Agnes again and again to break out of her shell and take risks, even if it costs her status of being normal. The game world provides the backdrop to the audience following Agnes’ journey. Even in scenes in the real world, the game world is ever present. Monsters are able to bust through hallway lockers just as the Kool-Aid man bursts into a party.
Agnes is a guest exploring Tilly’s world, and the sonic palette is experienced from Tilly’s perception of the outside world. We hear music that resonates with Tilly, including artists like The Indigo Girls and the industrial electronic/rock music of The Matrix. The hard-metallic colors and driving rhythm of industrial music create tension during the battles and help propel the energy of the story forward. This driving music is contrasted with a softer orchestral tone as we experience Agnes’ ambition, discovery, betrayal, forgiveness, and triumph. The development and reprise of these musical motifs evoke the emotional memory of the audience members. The reoccurring theme of the narrator underscore glue the story together.
We also hear music that represents Tilly’s perception of people outside of her direct world. Unlike Agnes, Tilly despises the mainstream pop culture of the 90’s and uses this style of music to represent her enemies. The sound score features both original compositions and third-party popular music adapted to the production. This includes jock rock and cheer routine music like C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” for the evil cheerleaders, LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” for epic fighting, and Agnes’ Ace of Base CD.
I began my research with the specific music mentioned in the stage directions, as well as recommendations from the director. I also brought my own experiences of the mid 1990's. Below is a general research playlist that inspired the development of the various musical motifs and themes.
Music Composition Process - Musical Theme Progression
Musical motifs were created to carry the ideas and emotions with re-occurring thematic elements in Agnes' adventure. Below are sound cue samples of the Betrayal theme, which is heard during Agnes' moments of doubt, fear, hurt, and grief which drives her away from confronting her fears and wants to leave the game.
This musical theme is adapted from "Ark Ascending" composed by Frederick Lloyd, and is adapted and performed by Jeff Sherwood. The musical motifs are variegated with more complex instrumentations as the story progresses and the emotions are heightened.
SQ 416 Betrayal 1
Scene 8, Agnes needs a time out
SQ 458 Agnes Journey Guitar
Transition to Scene 9, Agnes finds out her sister Tilly was bullied
SQ 489 Betrayal Transition
Scene 10, Agnes approaches Tilly about getting bullied
SQ 553 Agnes Journey Transition
Scene 11, Agnes continues forward
SQ 701 Lillith Dies
Scene 14, Agnes is devastated when Lillith dies in battle
SQ 712 Agnes Leaves for Good
Scene 14, Agnes cannot handle watching her friends die, she has had enough
Composition Work Flow
Click on an image below to enlarge the image.
© 2020 Jeff Sherwood.