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The puppet master and the dragon

  • One of five dragon heads awaits its artistic transformation in the theater workshop at Sonoma State University. (Sonoma State University)

One of the stars of Sonoma State University's current theatrical production, “She Kills Monsters,” is not the usual student thespian. It's a five-headed dragon.

The show-stopping beastie is the product of a cross-generational collaboration between senior drama student Michelle Dokos, 22, and experienced professional puppeteer Mary Nagler, 60, of Santa Rosa.

Assigned to create sets and props for nationally known playwright Qui Nguyen's fantasy play, based on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, Dokos discovered that creating a dragon was on her “to-do” list.

“I wanted to be true to Dungeons and Dragons, so I did a lot of research,” Dokos said.

“Working with Mary was amazing,” she added. “I call her the dragon goddess. I was just told to design a dragon, and that we had a puppeteer on hand. She looked at my drawings and she was able to figure out how it was supposed to work.”

Nagler, whose credits include work on the movies “Being John Malkovich” in 1999 and “The Muppets” in 2011, has been making puppets for 50 years, starting at age 10.

Along the way, she also has served a one-year stint doing puppet skits with the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus. And she has enjoyed a long side career as Hoopla the Clown, performing at children's parties.

A Sonoma State University grad herself, Nagler works part-time there in the costume department, and was assigned to work with Dokos.

“The five-headed dragon is the biggest puppet I've ever made,” Nagler said. “It's 15 feet tall and requires eight operators.”

“She Kills Monsters,” directed by Paul Draper, opened March 5-8 and continues March 26-29 in Ives Hall on the SSU campus in Rohnert Park. Tickets, information: 664-4246, sonoma.edu/tix.

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