by TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
More than 175 years ago, the coding concepts that would lead to modern-day computer programming were pioneered by a woman named Ada Lovelace. But like many women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, her story has largely gone untold. Ada and the Engine, presented by Cardinal Stage at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center March 26–April 11, aims to correct that injustice.
A GoFundMe campaign, a grant from the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, and sponsorship from the Indiana University Center of Excellence for Women & Technology will allow Cardinal Stage to present free matinee performances to 450 area students. A companion curriculum illuminates the life and work of the woman hailed as the world’s first computer programmer.
According to Kate Galvin, Cardinal Stage artistic director, Ada and the Engine playwright Lauren Gunderson defies the play’s pre- Victorian era setting. “The language doesn’t feel old,” Galvin says. “It’s got a great sense of humor and a lot of feminist themes that come through, so it’s very relatable.”
The play centers on Lovelace’s collaboration with Charles Babbage, designer of the analytical engine—the historic precursor to modern computers. But the plot is much broader than the visionary minds of the two characters.
Lovelace was the daughter of romantic poet Lord Byron. It was her mother who steered her toward math. “She wanted to sort of beat the artistic nature out of her,” Galvin says. “Her mother felt like Byron had demons in him that were native to being an artist.”
The intervention worked—maybe too well. Lovelace persevered in her mathematical work despite her mother’s wishes that she be married off to a noble British family. “Ada is drawn as a fiercely independent woman struggling to define herself in her own way, instead of how the world sees her or how her mother sees her,” Galvin says.
Galvin says Babbage is depicted as “someone who recognizes Ada’s brilliance; who is brilliant enough himself to understand how brilliant she is. But even he struggles with his ego, and with the idea that this woman could be his equal, if not his better.”
For more information and tickets, visit cardinalstage.org.