Cardinal Stage, a dynamic professional theater in Bloomington, Indiana, opens its newest show on March 31. Ada and the Engine, written by Lauren Gunderson (Silent Sky, The Wickhams and Miss Bennet), tells the inspiring story of mathematician Ada Byron Lovelace (Megan Massie). Lovelace, who lived 1815-1852, is recognized today as the first computer programmer. The cast also includes Eric Olson as inventor Charles Babbage, Francesca Sobrer as Lady Anabella Byron and Mary Somerville, and Kevin Aoussou as Lord Lovelace and Lord Byron.
Kate Galvin has served as Cardinal Stage’s Artistic Director since November 2017. A Barrymore Award-winning director, Galvin has also directed productions in theaters across the United States. She serves as Vice President of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s board.
I spoke with Galvin about what it’s been like to bring Ada and the Engine to Cardinal Stage.
Coming Back to Ada and the Engine After Two Years
How far had you gotten when COVID restrictions began in 2020?
The whole show was basically staged. We had a few last things, but we were ready to move into the theater and start tech week.
What’s the vibe been as you’re finally able to mount the show?
Everyone is just thrilled to be back. Three of our four actors, who had previously been involved in the show, were able to come back. We have a new leading lady playing Ada and she’s marvelous. Everyone is excited. This is a piece everyone was jazzed about and we were all heartbroken when we couldn’t do it.
What was it about Ada’s story that really captured your attention?
Understanding how a mechanical and scientific machine might be able to someday write music and do something artistic is leaps and bounds in imagination and brilliance on her side.
Meeting Playwright Lauren Gunderson on Zoom
Have you seen or directed Lauren Gunderson’s plays before?
I’ve read a number of her plays. I’ve seen Silent Sky. This is my first time to direct one of her pieces.
What in particular impresses you about her style?
She’s got a wonderful ear for dialogue. It really just crackles. There’s a lot of humor and humanity. It is not a stuffy period piece! We’re really getting inside of who they might have been as people with their flaws, weaknesses, and humor. It’s very dynamic.
I had the good fortune to meet Lauren Gunderson in Spring of 2020. One thing I tried to do for patrons was start a script reading book club. In theater, seeing a show is part of the fun, but talking about a show afterwards is also fun. At that time we couldn’t go see shows, but I thought, well, we can still read scripts. When we read another Gunderson piece, I reached out to her agent to see if she would join us over Zoom for our meeting. She was very gracious. She came to our meeting and talked to us about the play and her work in general. That was really nice.
On Rehearsing with a Small Cast
Wow. What was your approach with rehearsals for Ada and the Engine?
Plays like this appeal to me because with historical fiction, I like to really dive into the research. We spent several days in the first week on table work to uncover the backstory of these characters. With the research that I’ve done and [the] actors have done, we figured out what’s useful and what’s not, and what’s in the play and what’s not for being helpful in our interpretation. [Then] we’ve been taking that in and putting it on its feet.
Is it challenging or more freeing to have a smaller cast when you dive into these issues?
I always much prefer small cast shows to large [ones] because we can get into the nitty gritty with spending time to talk about the characters in their emotional life and in the world of the play. I find that if we spend a lot of time doing that, then when we get on our feet it’s quite easy to block the show. Everybody understands what their characters’ impulses would be.
I noticed Gunderson likes to incorporate music and dance into her plays. Is that also happening with Ada and the Engine?
Yes, music is a key part of the show! Ada was a musician herself and so music is woven into the fabric of this piece.
Do you think we’re heading in the right direction with STEM and highlighting historical figures like Ada?
I think there’s progress being made, which is wonderful. Even in Bloomington, we’ve got clubs for kids at school and social groups for women in technology in the professional world. Telling stories is a way to show options and people in history to students; those things they didn’t know about [before] can inspire them. Theater also has a role to play in that, for sure.
Watch the video below for more behind-the-scenes information from cast members Megan Massie and Eric Olson. For performance times and tickets, visit the Cardinal Stage website.