Tesla Ex Machina at the Edmonton Fringe Festival

Ricky Coates in Tesla Ex Machina. Photo credit: Paul Kerford Wilson Photography

Ricky Coates in Tesla Ex Machina. Photo credit: Paul Kerford Wilson Photography

Tesla Ex Machina by Ricky Coates
August 12 – 15, 17 – 21 at Rutherford School
More information: rickycoates.com/tesla-ex-machina

An interview with Ricky Coates.

Describe your show in five words.

Solo biographical play about Tesla

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

In 1892, the famed inventor Nikola Tesla awoke with partial amnesia, and using his incredible willpower, he pieced his life back, memory by memory. Ricky Coates returns for his fifth Edmonton Fringe with the energetic, original theatrical biography, TESLA EX MACHINA. The Seattle writer-actor examines science and humanity through a virtuosic one-man performance, featuring charismatic live demonstrations of Tesla’s most renowned experiments, framed by a touching exploration of memory, family, and what it means to be human in an age of technology. The only show this year to feature robots, tap dance, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain, and a live tesla coil!

You say in your media release that a friend pointed out you had a strong physical resemblance to Nikola Tesla, who your show Tesla Ex Machina is based on. What else drew you to creating a show about Tesla?

I have been a big steampunk fan for the last ten years, and Nikola Tesla features prominently in many steampunk stories. A scientific visionary of the gilded age, steampunk aficionados wonder what life would be like had Tesla accomplished all he dreamed to do. With this cursory admiration of the inventor, I started digging into his biographies and finding an incredibly remarkable person. If I had three hours, I still couldn’t touch on all the amazing and tragic stories that happened in his life!

Your performance of Tesla Ex Machina includes live electrical demonstrations that replicate some of Tesla’s exhibitions. Why did you decide to include these in the show?What was it like to learn how to do these electrical demonstrations and pull them off every show?

Tesla was a great showman. His scientific demonstrations were likened to a skilled magician performing. I felt the need to incorporate that aspect into the show, and each of the demonstrations also ties into the story through direct or indirect metaphor. Plus, how can I do a show about Tesla without a tesla coil?

Now, making the demonstrations was fairly difficult. None of them exist pre-made, so I had to invent each one through kits, friends’ help, and trial and error. (The first time I plugged in the tesla coil, I was hiding in another room!) I learned a lot about electricity in the process, and my audiences have really appreciated the small science lessons that come in the show. Plus, they are simply amazing to behold. Science is like magic.

I’m sure you must have learnt a lot about Nikola Tesla while you were writing your show. What was one of the most interesting things you learnt about the inventor while you were creating your show?

Where to begin?! The man led a long and storied life, his brain worked in wondrous ways, many of his visions and predictions are realized in our world, and he had a hand in creating so many scientific fields. One aspect of Tesla that features prominently in the show is this strange mental “affliction” he had. Strong flashes of light would blind him, and then, he would hallucinate memories. The memories would look and feel as real as world around him. He learned to control this visualizing ability to invent almost everything mentally. He would even test his machines in his mind, so when he actually built them, every machine was fully functional.

Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?

While the story of TESLA EX MACHINA is my own creation, almost everything in the show is based in history. Much of the dialogue is pulled from papers and biographies, and the events are true. I love that audiences are going home and googling Tesla to find out more. There is so much to this man, so get ready to be entertained, informed, and inspired about this genius out of time!

The 35th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is August 11 – 21. Tickets go on sale August 3 at noon and will be available at tickets.fringetheatre.ca.

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