This New Edinburgh Festival Fringe Musical Bills Itself as 'Wicked Meets Hadestown' | Playbill

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Playbill Goes Fringe This New Edinburgh Festival Fringe Musical Bills Itself as 'Wicked Meets Hadestown'

God Catcher is making its world premiere at the Fringe and is inspired by the tale of Arachne.

God Catcher

Perhaps you already know the story of Arachne. The ancient Greek myth tells how Arachne said she could weave better than the goddess Athena. Enraged, Athena challenged the mortal human woman to a weaving contest in which Arachne beat the goddess. As a result, Athena punished her by transforming her into a spider, cursing her to weave the rest of her days. It's a tale told as a warning: Do not be too proud. Do not boast. You may catch unwanted attention.

But you probably haven't heard the other side of Arachne's story. And that's how God Catcher, a new musical making its world premiere at Edinburgh Fringe, was born.

Featuring a book by Cassie Muise, music by Tyler McKinnon, and lyrics by the pair, God Catcher reimagines the ancient Greek myth of Arachne and her weaving contest with the goddess Athena. Muise and McKinnon are bringing to light the other side of Arachne's story—the side about how Arachne stood up for other women, how she beat a goddess, and how women are oppressed and silenced. 

Muise and McKinnon, both Canadians, met while in the Masters in Musical Theatre Performance program at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2014. Now, almost 10 years later, they've brought God Catcher to Edinburgh Fringe for its world premiere. It plays Underbelly Bristo Square's Ermintrude space at through August 28. Learn more about the show and what it's like to put one on at the festival with the Q&A below.

Tyler McKinnon and Cassie Muise

How long have you been working on God Catcher?
I first started thinking about writing this show around May 2020. Tyler officially joined the writing team in January 2021, it’s been about two and a half years of us working as a team on the show!

How did God Catcher start?
I have always been a lover of Greek mythology. Early in the pandemic, I was chatting with a friend who asked me what my favorite myth is. I proceeded to tell him all about Arachne, and about how angry I was that so few people knew her myth, how I felt about her being misrepresented in a lot of modern offerings, and how I didn’t think the ending of her myth even made sense. Why was no one writing about who she actually was—a one-of-a-kind, talented woman who beat a goddess? And all while putting the voices of other women at the forefront? And my friend emphatically said to me, “Why don’t you do it?”

McKinnon: Later that same year, Cassie and I decided to catch up over Zoom (was there any other way then?) and she told me about the new musical she had begun writing. She shared with me a draft of the first act and some audio of her singing the melody of a song for the show called "Stranger To Myself." I loved the idea, loved what Cassie had already written, and was also aware that I didn’t want to insert myself uninvited, as a cis man, into a project with such an important message about the erasure of the female narrative. 

So, I came up with accompaniment to support the vocal track she sent me and said she could take it or leave it, no strings attached. Early in 2021, Cassie reached out again and asked if I could do something similar for another song in the show, taking the concept she offered and elaborating on it. I did—and before I knew it, she asked if I would be a part of the team!

Did the themes you wanted to explore come in tandem with the story, or did you integrate them later?
Muise: The themes we explore are the beating heart of this story for us. Shining a light on the erasure of the female narrative and asking questions about the accepted version of history were always integral parts of the show. While writing, we discovered there was even more to this story that we wanted to explore. Specifically, how Athena is trapped like Arachne by the limitations and expectations we place on women, just in a different way. 

McKinnon: The original myth reads as a cautionary tale for those who boast of their abilities and lack humility. The poet Ovid wrote the first recorded account of Arachne in the collection of stories in Metamorphoses. There were potential parallels Ovid drew with himself and Arachne’s story, as well as potential parallels linking Athena to the Roman emperor Augustus—a comment on those with power imposing their own moral authority on those with less power. But, in a modern context, there was so much to explore, specifically about a woman’s story and her truth being changed and warped by the patriarchal society that does not want that truth known, and actively benefits when it is not told.

Are there any other shows that inspired or guided you?
Hadestown was definitely a big influence—I think the Elders are kind of the Fates of our show, though they have a different function—and Wicked in the sense of us reimagining a "big baddie." Personally, I am so inspired by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire because they wholeheartedly embrace wild and imaginative stories like Kimberly Akimbo and even Shrek! 

McKinnon: Our quick pitch we tell everyone is that this show is Wicked meets Hadestown! Stephen Schwartz is one of my favorite theatre composers—I love his use of harmony, so I really tried to infuse elements of that into God Catcher.

Why did you want to present God Catcher at the Edinburgh Fringe?
Tyler and I both have personal connections to Scotland and to the Fringe. It has diverse and enthusiastic audiences. It feels like there’s an understanding that new work needs an audience to develop and grow. So, I think audiences at this Fringe in particular are honest but gentle, and eager to see potential over a finalized product. And we are hopeful we’ll make connections here that will see the potential in God Catcher, too. 

McKinnon: Having attended the RCS almost 10 years ago now, our final thesis for the year was performing two shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I was amazed and overwhelmed with the amount of talent, creativity, and new work that emerged in this short month, and so I think we both agreed that when we premiered God Catcher, we wanted it to be here in Edinburgh.

What’s been the most difficult part about bringing a show to the Fringe?
It’s definitely intense, emotionally and physically. I’ve never produced a Fringe show that had a cast of more than just myself and a small band. I often feel like I am learning so much, and making mistakes I didn’t even know were possibilities. But I think the thing I find hardest is knowing that my learning process may affect the actors and other creatives involved. I want them to be cared for and protected. It’s a big responsibility. I’m so grateful for the creative team we have and our co-producers to help with the load. I would be a puddle without them. 

McKinnon: The stamina! I say this and I’m not even performing in the show itself! It feels like a full-on marathon that really puts you through your paces.

What are you hoping to get out of your Fringe experience?
Muise: This is the world premiere of God Catcher. No matter what, this Fringe feels like a huge gift to have finally seen Arachne and the people of Hypaepa come to life. Ultimately, we are looking for financial support and a home for God Catcher, so that we can continue to develop the show to the full two-hour version it deserves to be. We have plenty of storylines, and so much more music waiting to be explored and woven into the show. To that end, we want to connect with producers, theatres, and programmers, to take our show to the next step.

McKinnon: This is the premiere of our show, so in many ways, having people see our work for the first time and hearing their thoughts is exactly what I wanted for the show itself. On a personal note, I would like to see as many shows as I can, since it’s been about seven years since I last attended the Edinburgh Fringe, so I really want to make the most of it!

What other show would you recommend that people go see and why?
I absolutely loved Moderation at Greenside. An intense two-hander that has loads of funny moments, which really made me think about the toll our online landscape has on the gardeners of the internet. [Ed note: Muise also recommended TINK, N.Ormes, and Potty the Plant.]

McKinnon: Walking Home at Gilded Balloon Teviot. It’s a devised piece about the issue of sexual assault in public spaces against women and other marginalised groups. It’s based on more than 40 real accounts of sexual assault that were anonymously submitted. The most important part of it, for me, is how it asks what our responsibility as a community is to prevent things like this from happening. [McKinnon's other recommendation is Catholic Guilt by Kelly McCaughan.]

If you’re comfortable sharing, how much did it cost you to present God Catcher at Fringe? How did you find the funds?
We were fortunate enough to have received funding from Canada Council for the Arts, Arts Council Malta, and via a GoFundMe that we launched. Our producing partner is Prickly Pear Productions, which was founded by Chantelle Micallef Grimaud and Zoë Alba Farrugia. They are both originally from Malta—and Zoë is now based here in Edinburgh and Chantelle in London. Of the total funds raised, 80 percent goes towards actors, music director, director, stage manager, band, and producer fees, as well as the cost of our rehearsal rental. The remaining 20 percent was allocated for marketing, printing, public relations, venue, Fringe registration, and insurance costs. All additional costs that have come from our own pockets we will hopefully cover with ticket sales—but that’s half the fun of Fringe!

Muise: Transparency is so important! Our total costs are over £40,000. We also got amazing help from family for things like costumes, made by my aunt Ethel Jack, and the set, made by my partner’s father Glen Drummond. My parents, Nora and Cyril Muise, and Tyler’s parents, Dana and Brian Smith, have been steadfast supporters and contributed a lot—paying the wage of one cast member and also making the first generous contribution to our crowdfunder to get it started. Tyler and I are out of pocket for the rest, and we aren’t paying ourselves for our work, so we’re hopeful there will be something to take home from our ticket sales. Either way, we know it’s worth it. This is the Edinburgh Fringe, after all!

God Catcher is produced by Chantelle Micallef Grimaud and Zoë Alba Farrugia of Prickly Pear Productions. Serving on the production are director Becky Hope Palmer, music director Shonagh Murray, and stage manager Izzy Bergquist. 

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