How to Kill Monsters: A Theater Kid’s Logbook⚔️

Written by Sabrina Basilio & Kirby Vicente
Graphic by Sasha de Jesus

Monsters aren’t always easy to identify. While some are towering like the Cyclops or ferocious like Tiamat, most monsters are insidious, invisible, and closer to us than we think.

We often frame the battle against monsters as a battle against complicated ‘-isms,’ intergenerational tensions, or immutable institutions working against the underprivileged. We also often frame artists as the designated heroes of this battle, idealizing them as infallible champions of empathy who will create and illuminate the path to victory. But for Jungle Gym Play Laboratory (JG), Sightlines Actors’ Space (SAS), and The Playbook Club (PBC), the battle is as much internal as it is external. The work begins at home and with friends. The fight is not simply against something but for something, and our chosen weapons are not meant to maim — but to rebuild.

How do we do this sustainably and with fun? We build a party!

L-R —The logos of Sightlines Actors’ Space, Jungle Gym Play Laboratory, and The Playbook Club

Our Allies

Founded by young artists during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic, JG, SAS, and PBC all share a vision of theater-making that endorses consent-forward, collaborative, and trauma-informed practices. SAS practices this through the Meisner acting technique and intimacy direction/coordination. PBC connects artists with varying levels of industry experience across digital and in-person platforms. JG works with schools and climate groups in pursuit of playful and participatory collective storytelling.

All three groups battle monsters in their unique ways, but in this case, these independent bodies have come together as an interconnected network. We found a way to synergize our collective strengths and gain insights from one another, and that is where our staged reading comes into play.

March 12, 2024 — The first official meeting for JG, SAS, and PBC’s collaboration

Our Play

SHE KILLS MONSTERS is a high-octane dramatic comedy written by super-nerd and playwright extraordinaire Qui Nguyen. It tells the story of Agnes Evans, as she leaves her childhood home in Ohio after her teenage sister, Tilly, dies. Agnes discovers Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons notebook and is drawn to her adventures in the imaginary world of New Landia. Through Tilly’s action-packed D&D campaign, Agnes learns more about her late sister’s secret life, encounters the vibrant cast of characters in her sister’s life, and even gains a deeper understanding of herself.

According to our director, Tara Jamora Oppen, this production presents an opportunity for us to get intimate with grief and open ourselves to its precious gifts. In other words, we are dealing not only with Agnes’ journey towards acceptance, but ours as a community as well. Much has changed in the theater community since the COVID-19 pandemic, and like Agnes, we are called on a quest to pay better attention to what these changes truly mean.

Tara Jamora Oppen — Our fearless director

Our Process

Some of these changes came in the form of curated workshops, a specific rehearsal design, and a production calendar that catered as much time to ensemble-building and educational sessions as to production-building.

Endorsing Consent-Based Practices: Intimacy, Transparency, & Care

Before initiating the staging process, it was established by JG, SAS, and PBC that the production would thrive if everyone involved spoke the language of consent.

From a management angle, this meant total transparency with the production processes and limitations, the early distribution of contracts, and organized communication channels. For the rehearsal space, it was clear that looping in an intimacy coordinator (Regina De Vera) and a speaker on trauma-informed care (Cholo Ledesma) would provide our collaborators with key insights and tools for protecting their psychological well-being, honoring everyone’s boundaries, and maintaining our community agreements.

While others might bemoan the imposition of “new” (are they really?*) rules in a creative space, our collaborators found the parameters to be more liberating. As Leonardo Da Vinci suggests that “art lives on constraint and dies of absolute freedom,” we suggest that art-making thrives when everyone’s personhood and background is valued and treated with responsibility. If everyone feels safe and cared for, they are more open to play and explore creatively.

April 4, 2024 — Auditions as collaboration and community-building

* “New” is a contentious term. If we look into most of our pre-colonial communities and indigenous art traditions, we will find that the Filipino ‘kapwa’ mentality already shares crucial similarities with the values being endorsed by the care-based and trauma-informed methodologies only now being ‘discovered’ by the West.

Auditions as Sites for Collaboration and Community-Building

Speaking of playing and exploring creatively, instead of holding auditions with panelists, scripts, and specific physical requirements, we curated a line-up of improvisation exercises and life games. This approach gave the auditionees more room for bursts of creativity and spontaneity, creating what they would later on describe as a more dynamic and inclusive audition experience than usual.

Emphasizing collaboration and play over individual competition may initially seem like an aesthetic choice inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons component of ‘She Kills Monsters,’ but, it is also a profoundly ideological choice for Jungle Gym. Now, more than ever, we must see productions less like an organization of ‘commercial talent’ or quantifiable creative resources and more like a community of people who want to make meaning together.

In her book “The Art of Gathering,” Priya Parker urges us to question the underlying reasons for our gatherings and not to simply replicate traditional formats. Keeping this in mind, we consider the audition process for ‘She Kills Monsters’ as an essential step guided by this philosophy, which continues to shape our ongoing journey.

Photos by Sabrina Basilio

Imagination and Truthfulness With the Meisner Acting Technique

Through the leadership of Marcel David from Sightlines Actors’ Space, we also introduced Meisner’s acting technique to the rehearsal process. This workshop served to address the self-consciousness and ‘analysis paralysis’ of actors when it comes to approaching a scene or a scene partner. Rather than demanding an actor to draw from personal experiences, the Meisner technique focuses more on imagination work and “living truthfully” in the present moment.

Our Invitation To You

Anyone paying attention to the current landscape of performing arts will see that our attitudes and belief systems towards art-making are shifting. Schools all over the country are leaning more into devising and experimentation, actors’ guilds and ordinances are being lobbied for, younger producers are intentionally signal-boosting younger creatives, and state-sponsored centers for the arts have started endorsing gender sensitivity policies across their projects. Everyone is playing a crucial part in killing the monsters we’ve known, and sharpening each other’s creative weapons as we face new ones.

‘She Kills Monsters’ is our humble offering to this movement, and it is also our gift to ourselves and to you. Join us in our journey this coming June 27, with shows at 2PM and 6PM at the Tanghalang Pagsanghan (Dulaang Sibol), Ateneo de Manila High School. We can’t wait for you to join our party.

Get your tickets now at

Poster by Kirby Vicente and Sasha de Jesus

Thank you for reading Jungle Gym Play Lab Notes. This post is public so feel free to share it.


 Read More