MAW brings computer pioneer Ada Lovelace to the stage

MIDDLEBURY — Girls in Victorian England, even from wealthy families, were rarely taught science or mathematics, much less allowed to build careers in such male realms. A woman’s proper place was in the home. So why did Ada Lovelace’s mother have her tutored in math from an early age?
As you’ll see in Middlebury Actors Workshop’s newest production, “Ada and the Engine,” opening April 11 at Town Hall Theater, her desperate hope was that math’s mental discipline would save her child from a fate worse than being unladylike — growing up to be anything like her late father, the bad-boy poet Lord Byron. Byron had abandoned Ada and her mother for a scandalous and dissolute life in Europe.
Lady Byron (played by Elisa Van Duyne) did keep Ada mostly out of trouble, but neither she nor math tutor Mary Sommerville (Melissa Lourie) dreamed the girl would earn a permanent place in the history of computer science. A century before any actual computers were built, Ada wrote the world’s first computer programs, and made visionary predictions about the magic computers would someday do. Beyond mere math, she said, they might even write music.
When young Ada (Mary Krantz) meets Charles Babbage (Steve Small), inventor of the Analytical Engine, at a society event, Babbage spots her talent and adopts her as a junior colleague. Even after Ada’s husband Lord Lovelace (Jordan Gullikson) objects to their closeness, the pair continue to work by correspondence for years.
Gunderson’s script features actual letters the two exchanged in the course of their work. In this production each letter is backed up by original music composed by Middlebury College music professor Peter Hamlin. A true artistic descendant of Ada’s, Hamlin specializes in electronic music and computer composition. The score includes harp, violin and piano, Ada’s own favorite instruments.
Director Rebecca Strum chose the play as her first full production with MAW.  “For most of my career as a director and arts educator in the New York metro area, I searched for and produced plays about women’s stories with challenging, complex roles for women to play,” she said. “I am interested in focusing on stories of women who have been lost to history and then found. The story of Ada Lovelace fits that bill.”

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