NAU Theatre closes unique season with tale of monsters, imagination and healing

Students rehearse play

Alexis Gibbs’ year in NAU’s Department of Theatre has included some unusual choices for an actor. The characters she’s portrayed have greeted loved ones and fought with enemies at a distance of six feet, lines have been shouted through a mask and audience members have been everywhere but the red velvet seats of the Clifford E. White Theater in front of her.

“I think it has helped all of us to appreciate the past and that we can still produce theatre in times like today,” she said of the COVID-19 precautions that have been a part of all four productions this year.

Gibbs began her senior year with a role in the first production, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” and concludes it in the lead role in the final production, “She Kills Monsters,which will be livestreamed April 8-11.

Alexis Gibbs

Gibbs plays Agnes, a 24-year-old woman grieving the loss of her sister and family. While cleaning out her sister Tilly’s room, Agnes finds her Dungeons and Dragons adventure and decides to play it, going through many journeys and self-discoveries throughout the play.

“We chose this play because it offers our students an ensemble-based show with strong female characters who fight and dance-battle their way to awesomeness,” said professor Rebecca Whitehurst, who is directing this year’s final production. “It also provides wonderful opportunities for our student and faculty designers—from lights and sound to costume, makeup and media. Oh, and because it’s fun!”

“She Kills Monsters” will be the fourth full production put on by the Department of Theatre this academic year, along with a festival of one-act plays, all through a pandemic that has kept many theatre companies and schools closed. The department has tackled issues ranging from keeping cast and crew safe to navigating the copyright issues of putting on a show for an audience on the Internet rather than in-person.

“Theatre is a live, synthetic and collaborative art form,” Whitehurst said. “With the challenges of COVID-19, we have had to creatively discover new ways of supporting these three pillars for our students and patrons. But such imaginative problem solving is the bread and butter of what we do as interdisciplinary theatre artists. And so, we play on!”

Department of Theatre chair Kathleen McGeever sees the current way of doing performances as so different, it verges on a new medium altogether.

“We have been students of a new artistic form, and have experimented and imagined outside of our comfort zone—faculty and students and staff, side-by-side, embracing the new without throwing out the collaborative, live, dynamic art of theatre making.”

While the year has been an opportunity to learn and rethink so many aspects of what theatre is, McGeever looks forward to a chance to bring the art form back in front of audiences and make choices out of artistic license and not necessity.

“Even if our audience is small, the dynamic exchange of audience to artists during live theatre is the final element of what we do as theatre artists. While we have told wonderful stories, we long for the exchange that can only be felt in real-time and together—a community of humanity.”

As for Gibbs, she’s ready for her chance to enter the professional theatre world and return to more normal productions.

“I am so ready to finally be able to touch my fellow actors on stage when we finally return back to normal theatre, but I am just thankful we still even get the chance to perform in times like these.”

NAU Department of Theatre presents “She Kills Monsters,” 7:30 p.m. April 8-10, with a 2 p.m. matinee April 10-11. Ticket prices and more information can be found online.

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Zachary Ziegler | College of Arts & Letters