God From the Machine at Edmonton Fringe Festival

God From the Machine
Fringe Cabaret Lounge (10330 84 avenue) August 15, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22

An interview with Ellen Johnston.

God From the Machine. Photo credit: Michael English

God From the Machine. Photo credit: Michael English

Describe your show in five words.

Surreal, philosophical, anthropological, musical, romp.

Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?

God From the Machine is a one-woman musical show that features 8 characters converging on a parking lot Guadalupe shrine near the US-Mexico border, all searching for miracles and new ways to reinterpret the myths that pervade our society. Some are regular humans just looking for something to change their lives. Others are goddesses coming to confront the Virgin of Guadalupe because they see themselves in her. The playwright also makes an appearance to address the concept of Deus Ex Machina directly.

How did you set about translating the concept of “Deus Ex Machina” into a one-woman musical format? What were you hoping to achieve?

It was a long process to translate the concept of Deus Ex Machina, but I knew from the start that I wanted it to be about characters who were waiting on a miracle. I also knew that I wanted the playwright to appear in a meta-theatrical way, since Deus Ex Machina comes from the theatre originally. I love classical theatre, and wanted to pay homage. I knew it had to be a musical, because I am an obsessive music-maker, and believe that sometimes music can say things that are impossible to impart with words alone. I tried to mix the music up with combination piano-voice and piano-guitar songs, as well as an instrumental, atmospheric piano piece, and one a cappella song. Because it was a modern interpretation of an ancient religious/theatrical concept, I decided to draw on religiously-inclined  music from North America, especially Gospel and Blues.

Your show is set in a parking lot – why choose to set the show there? Throughout the writing and rehearsal process, how did you know that was the right setting for this story?

I chose to set the show in a parking lot for a very simple reason. I was living in Mexico for most of this year, and was looking for inspiration for beginning to write my show. I happened to walk past a dingy parking lot in Mexico City one evening, and spotted a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe (patron saint of Mexico) illuminating the darkness. These sorts of altars are common throughout Mexico and the US Southwest, but the juxtaposition of asphalt and religion struck me as especially interesting, funny, beautiful and surreal. I am not religious, but have always been interested in the manifestations of faith, and found it amazing that even there, in that ugly place, people decided to set up a shrine. Since shrines were at the centre of the ancient Greek theatre experience, it only seemed logical to incorporate this totally new-world modern version of a shrine into my show.

Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?

Come support first-time Fringers! We may not have many credits under our belts, but our new voices are worth listening to!

Bonus question: Any names you want to drop who have been involved in your show (Edmonton arts people or otherwise)?
I have many people to thank, but an especially big shout out goes to my friends in Mexico, who helped inspire the work. Especially to the “Club de Canciones” at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and to my friends Carolina Anaya and Sara Barceinas for helping build the Guadalupe shrine.

The 33rd Edmonton International Fringe is August 14 – 24. Get your tickets at tickets.fringetheatre.ca.

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