Since 2016, Theatre Unleashed has presented an award at the annual Hollywood Fringe Festival in memory of member Tracey Collins. Tracey was a longstanding member of the TU ensemble, a tremendously talented and funny improviser and comedian who passed away unexpectedly in late 2015.
The Tracey Collins Memorial Funny Girl Award honors female performers that exemplify the same fearless force on stage Tracey possessed. Someone who bravely takes risks and finds the funny in places we don’t expect. Someone who can carry a scene when needed, or deftly share an ensemble moment just as easily, all while connecting with audiences in a way that make them love her – and make them laugh.
Due to the sheer number of sponsored awards offered at Fringe every year, we were unable to honor our nominees or winner at the ceremony, but we are proud to share them with you here.
This year’s nominees for The Tracey Collins Memorial Funny Girl Award are:
Emily Clark, Come On Down
Emily Dorsett, The Mayor’s Debate of Tranquility, Nebraska
Kate Hellen, The Mayor’s Debate of Tranquility, Nebraska
Ember Everett, Public Domain: The Musical
Spencer Harte, Ride or Die: The Hip-Hop Musical
And the Winner of The 2019 Tracey Collins Memorial Funny Girl Award…
Kate Hellen & Emily Dorsett for The Mayor’s Debate of Tranquility, Nebraska!
This year’s talent pool was absolutely incredible, so much so, we couldn’t pick just one from this very talented and deserving field. Kate & Emily, please contact us at [email protected] to collect your award.
Congratulations to Kate and Emily, to all of our nominees, and Funny Girls everywhere! Fringe on!
Tell us a bit about your character. What have you learned about them in this process? What’s most fascinating about their personalities? What makes them tick?
Charles Babbage is fascinating! He was brilliant and famous in his time, and yet he struggled to finish many of his greatest inventions (such as the Analytical Engine). I’ve been interested in what caused that – was it fear of seeing how his creations would fare once they were actually put to use? Or was he simply too ahead of his time? I also love the letters he exchanged with Ada Lovelace. You can really see how much he cares about her in the way he writes.
Jessie Sherman as Ada Lovelace and Alex Knox as Charles Babbage in Ada and the Engine by Lauren Gunderson. Photo by Matt Kamimura.
Talk a bit about your favorite parts of the process, both in terms of your character work and the production in general. Give us a sneak peek behind the scenes.
I adore working with this team. Heidi Powers creates a rehearsal room that is playful and encourages us to take risks. It’s the best kind of environment for making art! The cast is amazing, and it’s especially fun to work with Jessie Sherman who’s a dear friend from my college theater program (UC Santa Barbara).
Jessie Sherman as Ada Lovelace and Alex Knox as Charles Babbage in Ada and the Engine by Lauren Gunderson. Photo by Matt Kamimura.
Who are some of your personal heroes and why?
Alex Knox as Lord Byron in Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real
I’ve been fascinated for a while with Lord Byron. I played Byron in a production of Tennessee Williams’ <i>Camino Real</i>, and found it amazing that he became famous for his poetry. I love imagining a time when poets were famous like rock stars. Byron was the quintessential Romantic, indulging in his passions and lusts, and yet his poem “She Walks in Beauty” is about a very deep, almost reverent love for a mysterious woman he saw at a funeral. I think that poem reveals a different side of Byron. I love how that poem is so central to our play, too – to me, it sums up Babbage’s love for Ada.
Why is this story so important to tell? What do you most hope audiences get from this production?
Aside from being a gripping, funny, heartbreaking tale, I think our show is important because it gives the spotlight to an incredible woman, Ada Lovelace, who is finally getting her due as a visionary and pioneer in the field of computer science. She’s an inspiration to me, not only because she was a female in a field (and time) dominated by men, but because she looked at things in a unique way. She saw possibilities where other geniuses (like Babbage) couldn’t. We can all be inspired by her ability to look for ways to make the impossible possible.
This week, we sat down with Roger Fojas, choreographer for Ada and the Engineand asked him the 5 Questions! Here’s what he had to say:
*So, tell us a little about yourself. What is your artistic background?
Ringmaster Roger with Lucent Dossier
As a performer, choreographer and clown, I’m a founding member of circus troupe Lucent Dossier Experience, as well as company members with Astra Dance Theater, L’Unkles Boink, Silayan Dance Company, Sypher Arts Studio, and the Alien Fight Club. In 2005 I toured as Ringmaster Roger with the band Panic! at the Disco, and I’ve performed and choreographed in circus productions at festivals around the world (Coachella, EDC, LIB, Boom!, Symbiosis, Lollapalooza, Electric Picnic, etc.). I was Dr. Caligari in Astra Dance Theater’s production of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I’m also known for creating interactive theatrical productions (The Goblin Cabaret as part of the annual Labyrinth Masquerade, Forest FurriesShow, The Yellow Suit Society, and The Curious Kukuricoos at the Electric Forest Festival).
*Who are some of your influences?
My influences in movement can vary in range of areas like the world of clowning to contemporary dance as I often enjoy movement and work that that can explore the many levels of emotion and story in the human experience. I work professionally as a clown but I don’t like the thought that I have to create big laughs in order to clown. I can make people just feel as a clown as well. I also don’t think dance has to be about who has the best extensions and turns as I’m not that kind of choreographer or dancer anyways. I tend to be more about the human experience in the art of whatever I’m discovering. And I like how it affects emotion and visual patterns for me. Here are a few that help influence me in that regard: Stefan Haves, Bill Irwin, Slavas Polunin, Sonya Tayeh, Ryan Heffington, DV8 Physical Theatre, Pina Bausch, to name a few.
*So, what is your concept for the movement in Ada and the Engine?
When collaborating with director Heidi Powers I wanted to create specifically with the concept of The Engine in mind and making that the additional texture to the play. When thinking about the various characters and the certain situations and scenes and interactions they have, I’d think about the mechanics of the individual human relationships they’d have to one another and how that might relate to the mechanics of a machine. I’d allow that to inspire any of the stylized movement and dance conceptualized within the show.
*Amazing. And what has the process been like working with the actors thus far?
This particular show has been about discovering, through workshop, the process of what it’s like to be a part of a theoretical machine. Even if we are a human element in that engine, together we can make it work. Conceptualizing how each character fits within it in order for it to work helped us workshop the movement of the actors that went into the work. In any movement and/or dance I put into the show, I decided to incorporate the concept and feel of how an Engine works (or in today’s terms, a computer). For instance, The play itself could be a conceptual engine, the theater, its monitor, the seats, its keyboard, and the actors are its internal parts. When thinking along these lines, we play with the structure and patterns in which the characters would create and then find the textures and movement that could arise from that.
*What is something you’ve learned about Ada or any of the characters during this process that you didn’t know before?
I didn’t know much about Ada Lovelace or Charles Babbage before getting involved in this production so diving into this history has been an incredible wealth of information for me from the very beginning. As for the true historical aspect of all the characters in this play, I’ve gotten to realize that the heart of the life experiences and all its varied raw sensitive triumphs and flaws, beauty and emotions can be a timeless and relatable journey in any decade anywhere in the world and history just by being human.
We recently sat down with Heidi Powers, director of our first 2019 main stage production, Ada and the Engine, to get to know her a little better. Here’s what she had to say!
*Tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement in the local theatre scene. Where have we seen your work?
I wear a lot of different hats in the Los Angeles theatre community. I’m most known for co-writing musicals (like Bronies: The Musical) as well as producing and marketing (including Fancy: Secrets from my Bootydoir) but my longest-running passion for the medium is as a director. I hold a BFA in directing from the University of Michigan.
*Tell us about this script; what impressed you and made you want to do this show?
Heidi Powers, director of Ada and the Engine
From the moment I opened Lauren Gunderson‘s script, I knew it was something special. Her language just… dances off the page. One thing that dazzles me in particular is how she captures the way each person’s rhythm changes from relationship to relationship. Thematically, Gunderson hits a really cathartic spot for me, as well; I’m always hunting for the balance between the artistic and the analytical, and I love the way this play embraces both.
*Give us a sneak peek at the production. What are you excited to show audiences with Ada and the Engine?
Ada was passionate about music and its power to transport, and Gunderson’s play whisks us swiftly through decades and experiences (and even planes of existence!). So our production uses music and movement to weave it all together. Our exceptional cast is working with our choreographer, Roger Fojas, to workshop pieces inspired by the machines that Babbage and Lovelace dreamed up, and I can’t wait to share those visions with our audience.
*Share your thoughts on Ada herself. What were you surprised to learn about her?
I had certainly heard about Ada before reading the play, but I was genuinely shocked to discover that she was born Ada Byron. Yes, THAT Lord Byron was her father! I was also stunned that her mother, embittered by Byron’s… Byron-ness… pushed Ada into mathematics as a means of controlling her daughter’s wild side. While much of that “wild” side was her creativity and her fiery personal agency, Ada really did have a fiery streak… whether she was attempting to elope with a tutor, racking up horse-racing debts, even (gasp!) secretly writing poetry. She certainly was her father’s child, no matter how her mother tried to prevent it.
*Speaking of surprises, what don’t we know about you? Any hobbies, skills, obsessions you’d care to share?
When I’m not directing or writing (or doing marketing and publicity for the studios) I’m usually indulging in a new creative hobby. I find that the best way to keep my artistic juices coursing is to learn to make something else entirely. I’ve dabbled in graphic design, embroidery, lifestyle blogging and zentangle doodling, but this year I’m mastering the art of royal icing. There’s something soothing about watching a jumbled drizzle smooth itself into a perfectly smooth surface. If you visit concessions at the show, perhaps you’ll even get to try the fruits of my labor!
Heidi Powers directs this unique introspective on the intriguing relationship between pioneers Ada Byron Lovelace and Charles Babbage at the dawn of the computer age.
LOS ANGELES – While director Heidi Powers knew about Ada Byron’s Lovelace contribution to the birth of the modern computer, she was stunned to discover that not only was Ada Lord Byron’s daughter, but that she was also an accomplished poet and musician. “I love how she tried to embrace both her artistic and analytical sides,” Powers said. “I think that humanity’s most powerful inventions come from the combination of the arts and sciences.”
The complexity of Ada, her relationships and her many contributions to both of those worlds are at the heart of Lauren Gunderson’s acclaimed play Ada and the Engine, presented by Theatre Unleashed and playing March 21-31 at studio/stage in Los Angeles.
As the British Industrial Revolution dawns, young Ada Byron Lovelace sees the boundless creative potential in the “analytic engines” of her friend and soulmate, Charles Babbage, inventor of the first mechanical computer. Ada envisions a whole new world where art and information converge––a world she might not live to see. It’s a music-laced story of love, friendship, and the edgiest dreams of the future. Jane Austen meets Steve Jobs in this poignant pre-tech romance heralding the computer age.
“When I discovered Lauren Gunderson’s beautiful script, I knew it was the perfect show to not only kick off the 2019 season but also begin the next chapter for Theatre Unleashed,” said Co-Artistic Director Jenn Scuderi Crafts. “Backed with Heidi’s incredible directorial vision, this production will be a huge step forward in our company’s artistic journey.”
Co-Artistic Director Jacob Smith echoed those sentiments. “The first I saw of Heidi’s work was a few years ago, when I saw Bronies: The Musical, which she wrote and produced, and I’ve wanted to work with her ever since,” he said. “Between the hyper-talented cast, visionary director, and the all-star design team and crew, this show is going to be amazing on all levels.”
Beyond the fascinating exploration of the short life of Ada and her dynamic relationship with Babbage, the play also features quite a few surprises, including a rather unexpected finale that promises to leave patrons talking. With this production, Powers is also hoping to inspire.
“Ada’s mother had urged her into mathematics as a way to control the ‘wildness’ she inherited from her absentee father,” Powers said. “Today we’d define that wildness as creativity, or agency, or curiosity…and they’re the kinds of qualities I’d like to encourage in all young women.”
SYNOPSIS: As the British Industrial Revolution dawns, young Ada Byron Lovelace (daughter of the flamboyant and notorious Lord Byron) sees the boundless creative potential in the “analytic engines” of her friend and soulmate, Charles Babbage, inventor of the first mechanical computer. Ada envisions a whole new world where art and information converge––a world she might not live to see. It’s a music-laced story of love, friendship, and the edgiest dreams of the future. Jane Austen meets Steve Jobs in this poignant pre-tech romance heralding the computer age.
DATES AND TIMES: March 21-31
Thursdays and Fridays – 8 p.m.
Saturdays – 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays – 7 p.m.
520 N. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90004