Author: Becca Vaclavik

This fall, CU Theatre places identity issues at the forefront of its season

In a typical year, the Department of Theatre & Dance plans its season well in advance, choosing events long before audiences experience them live. Of course, 2020 is anything but a typical year. So when COVID-19 shut down campus in March, leadership was forced to reexamine a nearly complete season.

“When the pandemic hit, we had to narrow down our choices because of the resources it takes to produce in this world. We looked at what we had originally planned and asked ourselves what could still be done with new restraints in mind,” says Associate Chair Kevin Rich.

“She Kills Monsters” was an easy choice. Sensing a unique need, playwright Qui Nguyen immediately adapted his 2011 script to be performed by companies over Zoom. Amanda Rose Villarreal, who will direct the streamed play, was delighted by the revised script.

“I emailed it around in the department and said, ‘I think this gives us a really cool opportunity to pioneer whatever digital theater is and can be.’ Plus, it allowed our students to create during an era when there has been uncertainty around whether campus will remain open.”

The new version, “She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms,” is a fast-paced, hilarious homage to geek culture with a profound undercurrent. It tells the story of Agnes, a girl who plays Dungeons & Dragons to better understand her sister Tilly, whose LGBTQ+ identity she only discovers in the wake of Tilly’s death.

“There’s a whole scene in the original script in which Agnes asks, ‘Why is everybody in this game gay?’ And they essentially say, ‘Why not?’,” muses Villarreal. “It’s about flipping the norm and flipping the expectations back on the people who carry prejudice … This play issues a challenge for the ‘average’ person, whether that’s white, cis-, or hetero-. The heroism is that when you stop holding averageness so dear to your heart, you can start to defend other identities.”

In many ways—literal and figurative—the play is worlds apart from its season counterpart. “The Laramie Project” is an investigative play created through 200 real-life interviews with the residents of Laramie, Wyoming, after two men committed a violent hate crime, murdering 21-year-old Matthew Shepard. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first production and 22 years since Matthew’s death.

But despite their differences, the two plays combine fortuitously to interrogate the ways in which Americans have or haven’t evolved in our understanding and acceptance of identity.

“This summer seemed to parallel some elements of Matthew’s story,” says “Laramie” director Elise Collins. “We need positive social change, but it should not only occur in the aftermath of tragedy, as often seems to be the case. We had conversations about this among the company: Why does it take a terrible event for people to finally say, ‘You know what, I need to do something about this’? The play serves as a litmus test to assess how far we’ve come as a nation and how far we still need to go.”

Looking to the future, as the United States continues to grapple with social justice and equity for all, Kevin Rich confesses he’s hopeful when he looks at the department’s theatremakers: “A disproportionate number of narratives about marginalized populations seem to focus on the pain of their experience. I’m incredibly inspired by the next generation of artists who say that’s not all they want to focus on. We want variety in their stories. We want to see our characters be happy. We want them to live and to love.”

“The Laramie Project” is available to stream Oct. 30-Nov. 6. “She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms” can be streamed Nov. 13-20. $10 tickets ($7 for CU Boulder faculty, staff and students!) are available at cupresents.org.

For those interested in learning more, CU Theatre asks that you please visit and donate to The Matthew Shepard Foundation and The Trevor Project.