Being a teenager is terrifying. It was true in 1818, when 20-year-old Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, one of the world’s most famous monster stories, and it’s still true 200 years later, as the young cast of Monsters prepares to perform the original theatrical piece—a play that incorporates drama, dance, music, acrobatics, and a cast of the world’s mythical monsters.
Elaine Carol of Miscellaneous Productions has been developing the play for almost four years and working with youth actors for more than 15. But the veteran playwright and director tells the Straight over the phone that she’s “suitably scared” as opening night looms.
“It’s at that awkward-teenager stage. We’re kind of getting ready for the prom and it hasn’t fully sunk in,” she says. “For our young casts, once we start moving into the theatre and the dressing room, that’s when it starts to sink in that this is something different, something special, something polished, and has more depth than a high-school musical.”
Monsters started the same way many Miscellaneous Productions pieces do: with a deep dive into a pressing issue in Vancouver’s schools. Carol decided on bullying, and after running youth workshops in Vancouver, Toronto, France, and Belgium, she became fixated on the idea of monsters and how they are created.
Carol says she realized that the one monster recognized around the world was Frankenstein’s. Upon rereading, she was struck by a line from the novel’s infamous creature: “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend.”
Ideas of transformation and what makes a monster are at the heart of the play. An “international conference of monsters” meets and decides to retell the story of Frankenstein for the audience, with history’s mythical creatures playing the parts. The featured beasts were chosen from the cast members’ cultural backgrounds. Audiences will meet a Filipino fallen angel called an Engkantada, a Russian trickster spirit called a Domovoi, and a Taiwanese mountain demon called a Moxina, just to name a few. Figures from history, like the notorious Robespierre and the dictator Pol Pot, also take on prominent roles.
Carol notes that the origin stories often tell of creatures that were once good but were transformed as a result of abuse or neglect—a theme she finds relevant to youth audiences.
“If you look at the monsters and mythical creatures, many of them start as gods and goddesses. They were colonized in different ways,” Carol says. “This is what I learned in particular from the Filipino kids. In many cases it was Christianity or some kind of organized religion that made these angels into devils.”
Carol doesn’t try to sugarcoat the fact that the play is dark. But audiences can expect entertaining moments and original songs, including a hip-hop dance number, as well as compositions by Cris Derksen.
And while she’s as scared as any director would be leading up to a premiere, Carol is confident that her scrappy young cast are more than ready to bring Monsters to life.
Monsters plays the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Friday and Saturday (October 6 and 7).