Jenna and Jeff Horick have been directing theatre productions in Hillsboro, Ohio for years.
When it came time to select the 2021 fall play for Hillsboro High School in southwest Ohio, the husband-and-wife directing team decided to consider “She Kills Monsters.” The play had been suggested by a Hillsboro student who thought audiences would enjoy a plot centered on a group of teens finding themselves through playing Dungeons & Dragons.
“She Kills Monsters” debuted in 2011 and has proven to be an immensely popular play for high school stages and college campuses over the past decade. For the Horicks, the production was an ideal fit, particularly as the student suggesting the play said that the script helped her frame her own experiences with loss and identity.
“When I read it, the words grabbed my heart,” Jenna Horick said. “Love and family and acceptance and friendship and soul-searching, it’s all in there.”
The Curtain Falls
The Horicks knew they had a few tweaks to make with the script to make some of the PG-13 language more appropriate for K-12 audiences. But even without those changes, the high school signed off the selection of the play and bought the rights to stage it.
There was one plot point that the directors did not alter: a character in the show is implied — though not outright stated — to be gay.
In October, about a month into rehearsals, the directors hosted a meeting of parents of the actors in the show, a routine gathering the Horicks organize for their productions.
That’s where the pushback started.
“One person came whose daughter was in the show and they brought with them the pastor from their church,” Jeff Horick explained. “[The pastor] basically ridiculed us and said, ‘If you continue with this play, be prepared for a storm.’”
The next day, Superintendent Tim Davis approached Jenna Horick, a 4th grade teacher.
“He said, ‘Look, we can’t do this. I can’t bring my kid to this play. It’s not K-12 appropriate. There’s bad language. There’s a devil character with red horns.’” Jenna Horick said. “I knew he had made up his mind.”
As the Horicks expected, Superintendent Davis canceled the fall production of “She Kills Monsters.”
The Fallout Begins
As word got out about the cancelation, Superintendent Davis maintained his stance, telling WKRC that “the fall play has been canceled because the play was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”
The Horicks tried to suggest other plays to be staged so that there would still be a fall production, but all of their ideas were rejected by the school. That included the play “I Hate Shakespeare,” which the Horicks say was nixed when the superintendent told them that he didn’t like that people died in the show.
“It’s based on Shakespeare,” Jeff Horick said. “People die.”
They said the repeated rejections were a far cry from their previous productions, including “Les Miserables.”
“For that parent meeting, we reminded them that some of their children would be playing prostitutes,” said Jeff Horick. “They had no problem with that.”
It quickly became clear that no play would be approved, a blow to the students who had already spent a month invested in “She Kills Monsters.”
Laura Pickering-Polstra had two children involved in the production, including one who already had her lines memorized by the time the show was canceled.
“If the superintendent had just stood up and said, ‘This is a good show, the kids are going to do it, and you guys don’t have to come,’ then none of this would have happened,” Pickering-Polstra said.
Support from Across the Country
The cancelation didn’t sit well with Zebadiah Pickering-Polstra, one of Laura’s college-age children who had participated in Hillsboro theatre productions during his high school years. Laura said Zebadiah was angry with how the show had been yanked, prompting him to create a GoFundMe page.
The goal was to raise $5,000 to stage an independent production of “She Kills Monsters,” free from the control — and approval — of the high school.
The campaign quickly went viral, netting a staggering $23,710 in a matter of days. But it wasn’t just money that came through the crowdsource funding page.
“Along with the donations were all of these notes of support from people who loved the play or people who wanted to show the kids the support that they never had when they were in high school,” said Laura Pickering-Polstra. “It was the most amazing outpouring of love from all over the country.”
The Show Must Go On
Eight months after “She Kills Monsters” was canceled, the curtain is about to rise on the promised independent production.
The play is being housed under the umbrella of Kindred Spirits Theatre Company, an organization that was created out of the cancelation brouhaha with a core mission focused on “educating, inspiring, and entertaining the people of Southern Ohio through the performing arts.”
“Kindred Spirits allows us to not just focus on this production, but also be forward-looking and support these inclusive opportunities in the future,” Pickering-Polstra said.
The company was able to secure a space at Southern State Community College in Hillsboro — four miles north of the high school — for three performances on June 17, 18, and 19.
The Horicks are laser-focused on the production being fully independent, which means not borrowing any costumes or sets from the high school as they would normally do to stage a play.
That’s where the $23,710 in donations comes in.
“Without that money, we wouldn’t have the freedom to do this,” said Jeff Horick. “We’re not just doing this play. We’re doing it now with flair.”
The Horicks promise that audiences will leave entertained (live-action sword-fights! comedy! 90’s music!), but also exit the theater quite touched.
“This show is about telling a story, learning a lesson, and expressing raw emotion,” said Jenna Horick. “The audience is going to feel what these characters are going through. The actors truly are that good.”
As for the cast-members themselves, opening night will certainly be a full-circle moment for these young actors who will finally be reciting lines they had hoped to perform months ago on a completely different stage.
Pickering-Polstra said that it was so beneficial to the cast’s morale to witness the outpouring of support that came flooding in from across the country. That cast-list includes her daughter, an out lesbian who was slated to be in the original high school production and who has a starring role in the new independent staging.
“She knows through this experience that there are people who would fight for her and do the right thing,” said Pickering-Polstra. “She feels…seen. And that’s really what this whole play is all about.” 🔥
- Get your tickets to “She Kills Monsters” right this very second. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. for Friday, June 17 and Saturday, June 18, and 3:30 p.m. for Sunday, June 19. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online and at the door.