Scientists, engineers, and data entry clerks work diligently on a machine designed to destroy the sun, and therefore the world.
The question is, will it ever get used?
Clinton Carew and Elena Porter are the creative team behind Star Killing Machine, a musical comedy about the end of the world.
Sitting down with them at The Backstage Theatre in Old Strathcona’s Arts Barns after the technical rehearsal, it’s clear that their partnership—in both life and work—is an effective one. Having met in 2001 on the set of Cabaret at the Citadel Theatre in 2001, the two have since married, had a child, and collaborated to produce three shows for Broken Toys Theatre. With Carew as writer of the most current play’s book and lyrics and Porter holding the roles of both actor and artistic producer, the couple uses drastically different approaches to create a musical comedy about the end of the world.
“I’m more of a traditionalist,” admits Porter. “I went to musical theatre school when I moved to Edmonton and then I did my classical theatre training degree afterwards. I like Shakespeare and I like musicals. Clinton does as well, but he’s also a lot more quirky and sees the world in a much more interesting way.”
The premise of Star Killing Machine began as a soul funk album made by Carew’s friend and former bandmate, Krystian Dell. After the group broke up, Carew continued to write lyrics for his pal’s solo work, which culminated in Our Place In The Sun. The collection of eclectic songs—including “Cutest Kleptomaniac,” “My Rolling Chair,” and “Elton’s Bitch”—was never officially released, but Carew resurrected the album’s song and stories in the form of live theatre.
Building the play around an entire album—think Across the Universe—was never the plan. However, Carew welcomed the idea of a jukebox musical in the same way he greeted other spontaneous discoveries throughout his offbeat, workshop-driven production process.
“I’m still kind of amazed that all of the songs are in the play,” he says. “I thought we’d have three or four of them and that we’d write one or two new ones, and that there would be a lot of themes and motifs like in normal musical theatre.”
Carew wrote the song “Star Killing Machine” as an ode to his employment at a soul-destroying infomercial company in the early 2000s. To him, the work of selling overpriced jewelry to a jobless grandmother and crafting machinery to wipe out the world are one and the same. In each case, the little guy contributes to a much bigger problem under the guise of ‘just doing his job.’
“I think that people have a really easy time pretending the reason that terrible things are happening is because there’s one or a dozen or 5,000 people making terrible things happen,” Carew says. “But nobody wants terrible things to happen. People do what they do—day by day—to survive, and that’s why everything is a mess.”
But there’s still an elephant in this room full of scientists. Despite the theory of mutually assured destruction—where the possession of nuclear weapons on each opposing side prevents the use of them from either—Carew is convinced that “they build them to not use them, and then somebody decides to use them.”
Reminded of Anton Chekhov’s argument of fictional inevitability, Porter points out the familiar trope that “if there’s a gun on stage, it’s gonna get used.”
At which point Carew jumps in; “and there’s a big fucking gun on stage.”
Thurs., Jan 19 to Sun., Jan. 29
Backstage Theatre, $23