“Here be monsters”, ancient maps warned unwary travelers venturing too near the edges of the unknown, and there were monsters indeed at the 2017 performances of Monsters, an original transdisciplinary musical theatre work by MISCELLANEOUS Productions, presented October 6 and 7 of that year at the Scotiabank Dance Centre’s Faris Family Studio Theatre.
The monsters in question were those, real and imagined, encountered by a cast of Vancouver youth as they explored the concept of “monsters” as found in culturally diverse, historical, pre-modern, Indigenous and traditional storytelling, as well as futuristic monsters in popular culture. Monsters integrated these stories with the performers’ personal experiences of bullying or being bullied — the monsters they had encountered, and the monsters they found within themselves.
Loosely based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Monsters was a strongly anti-bullying, anti-violence, anti-racism play designed for young audiences aged 12 an older and performed by youth, exploring how and why a community creates and supports a “monster”, how collusion functions and how people are often attracted to individuals with loud, brash, forceful or aggressive personalities but are unaware of how incredibly damaging they can be.
The initial participatory research for Monsters, working with Kaspar Saxena, a Canadian academic expert on monsters and mythical creatures, focused on art and literature from diverse international cultures, contrasting and juxtaposing these monsters with the youth participants” own “monster within.” This served as a catalyst for discussion and a search for creative solutions to racism, bullying, violence, discrimination and hatred.
Monsters was performed and co-written by: Aleksandra Koel; Emily Lê; Pearl “PJ” Alingig; Klaudija Muznikaite; Gwen Kyla Ocampo; Tiffany Yang; Bella Avila Gil; William “Billy” Robert Smith; Tiffany Shim; and Kamalia Coetzee. Original music for the production was commissioned by MISCELLANEOUS Productions and created by by Cris Derksen, Sophia Danai, Natasha Pheko and Chin Injeti.
In addition to Frankenstein, the company also drew from the works of Maurice Sendak and Brothers Grimm, and research on other European, Latinx, and East, Central, Southeast, and South Asian fairy tales, legends and myths, including the Engkantada, Tulpar, Moxina and more.
Monsters also referenced an enormous body of visual, historical and literary research that director Elaine Carol undertook in 2015 in Belgium, Catalonia and France. She was in France and Brussels at the time of the Paris attacks and worked with North African (Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan) youth workers and organizations to attempt to deconstruct the issue of bullying during this disturbing tragedy.