Like many of his colleagues in the theatre world, Richard Buchanan has pondered a big question: How do we represent the diversity in the whole world: diversity in race, sexual orientation, physical ability?

Mount St. Joseph News

 

Like many of his colleagues in the theatre world, Richard Buchanan has pondered a big question: How do we represent the diversity in the whole world: diversity in race, sexual orientation, physical ability?

Buchanan, the Mount’s Director of Theatre Arts, has begun to tackle that challenge in casting the Mount’s spring play, “She Kills Monsters.”

How it happened was serendipitous.

When Kaitlyn Schulte auditioned, Buchanan discovered that she has cerebral palsy--and so does one of the characters in the play, Kaliope Darkwater/Kelly. Schulte, a freshman Early Childhood Education and Special Education major, never acted in high school. Last summer she contacted Buchanan about getting involved in theatre activities. In the fall, she performed as Mrs. Burns in the virtual play “Empty Space.”

Schulte was born with cerebral palsy, “a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Until the first grade, she used a wheelchair. After two surgeries and therapy, she now navigates the hallways of the Mount in a walker when she is on campus for rehearsals or for her job in Archbishop Alter Library. She also has leg braces, which she sometimes relies on to keep her knees from buckling.

“Having cerebral palsy gives me an advantage in my role in the play because it’s something I share with my character,” she says. “Being in this role is also a recognition that someone with cerebral palsy can perform in a play.”

Her comments echo what some “crip artists,” like Debbie Patterson, believe. In an August 12, 2020, essay on the Howlround Theatre Commons website, Patterson, a professional actor who developed multiple sclerosis 15 years into her career, writes,  “I now use my lived experience of disability to explore aspects of the human condition I didn’t have access to before.”

Characters with disabilities are not the only underrepresented group in “She Kills Monsters,” says Buchanan. Characters struggle with issues around being LBGTQ teens, and the main character is coping with the recent death of her sister.

First premiered on stage in 2011, the play has been performed 144 times by “amateur companies and a whopping 652 were done on school and college campuses,” according to a July 3, 202o, feature in The New York Times by Elisabeth Vincentelli. She calls the play “a story in which girls wield swords, queer kids are cool and nerds rule the earth.”

According to Buchanan, “killing monsters” in the play happens on both a literal and figurative level. The main character “faces difficult truths about herself and comes out a different character.”

This “Zoom theatre” performance will tell “the story of Agnes Evans as she leaves her childhood home in Ohio following the death of her teenage sister, Tilly,” according to the publisher’s website, concordtheatricals.com. “When Agnes finds Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons notebook, however, she stumbles into a journey of discovery and action-packed adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly’s refuge. In this high-octane dramatic comedy laden with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres, and 90s pop culture, acclaimed young playwright Qui Nguyen offers a heart-pounding homage to the geek and warrior within us all.”

Joining Mount students in this production will be a Drama Club alum, 2017 graduate Aimée Ward.  Performances will stream March 26 and 27 at 7 p.m. and March 28 at 2 p.m.

Featured in photo: Kaitlyn Schulte

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