Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Theatre Unleashed's recently premiered the first show of its 2019 season with Ada and the Engine. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the show?
Heidi Powers: Ada and the Engine explores the true story of Ada Lovelace, an extraordinary mathematician who is widely considered the first computer programmer. Her story is a fascinating one, starting with her parentage. (Her father was the infamous poet Lord Byron, and her mother Anabella, after the events in the play, went on to work with abolitionists and suffragettes.) Ada worked closely with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine, an early precursor to the computer. The relationship between the two modernists, as depicted in Gunderson’s play, is genuinely thrilling, with Ada’s fiery passion sparking against Charles’ flinty stoicism. It’s also the story of a woman out of time, in every sense of the word.
BD: As the director, what piqued your interest in the show and encouraged you to get involved?
HP: When Theatre Unleashed Artistic Director Jenn Scuderi Crafts asked me to read it, she wasn’t sure how it could be staged. I found the script both deliciously smart and deeply moving, and the staging seemed so clear to me that I messaged Jenn with my thoughts immediately. I actually didn’t even realize I was pitching, or that she would ask me to direct, but the ideas landed well with Jenn and she invited me on board. I received my BFA is in directing, but I left it behind years ago for writing and producing. Thank goodness she asked me to direct, though, because my experience directing Ada feels quite like coming home.
BD: Why do you feel that Theatre Unleashed is the perfect home for the production as it begins its new season?
HP: It is so exciting to watch Theatre Unleashed grow as a company, as they have over the last several years. After many back-to-back seasons with intense slates, the TU team spent a year of renewal in 2018, stoking their creative fires and preparing for the next stage of growth. Ada and the Engine, as a play, is so full of hope and fire and imagination, just bursting at the seams. The entire team behind Ada could be described the same way, and that serendipity isn’t lost on any of us.
BD: What can you share with us about the talented cast and crew behind Ada and the Engine, and how would you describe your collective creative process in preparing for the production?
HP: Ada sometimes signed her letters to Charles with, “your fairy forever.” Somehow, this production seems to be metaphorically touched by pixie dust (and not only because our Ada, Jessie Sherman, frequently plays fairies!) Our cast can’t get enough of this play, frequently arriving early for rehearsals or staying late just to talk more about their characters. Our producers and designers (several of whom wear both hats) do remarkable job under the time and budget constraints of intimate theatre. Each person involved in the show throws their whole heart into it, and that makes for extraordinary workdays-- and hopefully, extraordinary work, too. Every day during this process, I am grateful for the sheer luck we’ve encountered in bringing this creative team together, and for the hard work each of them puts in.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
HP: I hope that the play will start a conversation about women in STEM and the way women’s passion and agency can be misjudged. I also hope that audiences will have a new perspective on balancing their analytical side with their creative side. All of us have both, and the most meaningful human inventions come from the marriage of the two.
BD: Are there any other upcoming shows or projects that you would care to share with our readers?
HP: Theatre Unleashed will be presenting a world-premiere play, Tattered Capes, at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this year. Exploring the marriage between two (secretly) superheroes, it’s described as “a Marvel movie on a Fringe budget” and promises to be a visual feast. The show is written by Greg Crafts, directed by Corey Howe, and choreographed by Soda Persi.
As for myself, I’m currently working with my writing partners on a musical about the life of Elizabeth Short, better known as The Black Dahlia.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Ada and the Engine and purchase tickets?
HP: You can find out more about our show here, and we hope you’ll join us!