The Connecticut Repertory Theatre is kicking off its fall program with three live productions: “She Kills Monsters,” “The 39 Steps” and “Food for the Gods.” Finally heading back to in-person performances, the producing arm of the University of Connecticut’s dramatic arts department will employ student actors and puppeteers to bring characters to life on stage.
The first production, “She Kills Monsters,” will be held outdoors behind the Student Union, running from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Directed by Beth Gardiner, who has over 20 years of experience under her belt, the show follows a girl grieving after losing her family in a car crash. In an attempt to learn more about her younger sister, she decides to play through her unfinished Dungeons and Dragons campaign — visualized with the help of Puppet Arts.
“It’s part coming-of-age story, part heartfelt drama and part bad-ass, fantastical adventure extravaganza,” Gardiner says.
Being an outdoor production, “She Kills Monsters” requires more preparation than normal. Those involved in the production process have thought of every possible issue that could arise. Costumes and equipment are all adaptable to various weather conditions. Even elements of the stage can be adjusted to ensure the safety of performers. Beyond weather, some uncontrollable factors Gardiner has faced in the past include flocks of birds, passers-by and even a train chugging along behind a show. The unpredictable nature of these elements keeps everyone on their toes, but also adds a whole lot of fun to the experience.
“I love working at the center of that giant, complicated endeavor, connecting people, their ideas and work to make sure it all comes together in the end to serve our event,” Gardiner says.
“The 39 Steps” is next in the line-up, showing from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7. Directed by UConn alum Helen Clark, the show is mystery at its finest. “The 39 Steps” brings in elements of the noir genre seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s direction of the 1935 film, along with an added sense of theatrical amusement with CRT’s production being run by a cast of four.
Due to the small cast, Clark is in charge of many details, especially in one scene where two actors play a total of eight characters. Despite this being no easy feat, she embraces the challenge.
“Leaning into the chaos is what makes theatre magic happen,” Clark says.
As someone who began her career as an actor, Clark is able to see beyond her vision as a director. Her favorite part of the process is seeing students contribute to the work.
“Often it ends up being better than I could have imagined,” she adds.
CRT’s final fall production comes in the form of a multimedia, interactive play. Written and directed by Nehprii Amenii, “Food for the Gods” will take place from Dec. 2 to Dec. 12, in the Nafe Katter Theatre.
Amenii was speaking at a Ballard panel on African American puppetry when approached by Michael Bradford, CRT’s former artistic director, about producing her show.
Inspired by the killings of Black men, “Food for the Gods” expresses rage, indifference and celestial knowing to explore the idea of human value. Like “She Kills Monsters,” the piece incorporates puppetry to tell a story. Puppeteers function as the ensemble, while actors deliver monologues, each equally important to the show.
Just as important is the audience.
“In my mind, the audience is the main character. The play will end, but the audience will continue to live,” Amenii says.
If you’re interested in joining the audience, “She Kills Monsters” is free of charge to the UConn community and requires no ticket bookings! All you have to do is show up! If you want to catch performances of “The 39 Steps” and “Food for the Gods,” stay tuned for updates on CRT’s website.