TU teams with writer/actor Rider Strong, acclaimed director Michael A. Shepperd and Oscar-winning producer Andrew Carlberg to offer a new perspective on one of the most notorious trials of all time, as well as our culture’s obsession with celebrity.
LOS ANGELES – Rider Strong knew celebrity, and the challenges, dangers and trauma that can come with it, at an early age. The accomplished actor, writer and director first gained fame as the star of Boy Meets World in the early 90s and he considers himself lucky to have survived his time in the spotlight, thanks mainly to a close and healthy family. Others, including some he’s known, aren’t so lucky.
“This play started as pure speculation,” he said. “I wondered what it’s like to be known as the victim in a ridiculously famous lawsuit, especially if most people think you lied. But once I started writing, I realized it was way more personal.”
Theatre Unleashed is proud to present Strong’s work, Never Ever Land, making its world premiere at studio/stage from Sept. 28-Oct. 27.
In Never Ever Land, Tim Gable’s family accused the world’s most famous singer of sex crimes in 1993. With the settlement, they walked away millionaires. Now, Tim is ready to tell the public the truth…but does he even know what that is? This bold, fictional new work offers a unique and deeply personal take on one of the most shocking lawsuits of all time and its lasting affects for one family in particular. It also takes a hard look at our celebrity culture in general, from all sides of the looking glass.
“As soon as I started reading Rider’s script, I couldn’t put it down,” said Theatre Unleashed Artistic Director Jenn Scuderi Crafts. “The characters are real and compelling and the subject matter is fascinating. I read a lot of plays, and I honestly don’t make it through a lot of them, but this one had me worked from the first moment. This play offers a glimpse into a world that most people don’t get to see. It’s going to have a tremendous impact on audiences.”
To bring Strong’s important work to the stage, TU has put together an all-star team. The show is being produced by Andrew Carlberg, a prolific and decorated stage and screen producer who recently won an Academy Award for the short film Skin. The play is being directed by Michael A. Shepperd, artistic director of award-winning Celebration Theatre whose local and national theatre credits are almost as long as his list of awards. And the cast list of Andrew Carter, Wade F. Wilson, Josh Randall, Marie-Francoise Theodore, Ashley Platz, Leif Gantvoort, Marcello Silva, Orlando Christian, Lee Pollero, Ann Hurd, Heather Lynn (u/s), Aaron Rodgers (u/s), Andrea Bennett (u/s) and Craig Jorczak (u/s) is a collection of talented artists from multiple local companies.
The show promises to be on of TU’s biggest to date, and one full of surprises.
“I hope people who come expecting a glimpse behind the curtain of a tabloid story will walk away with something else entirely,” Strong said. “Yes, this is the story of how one family was seduced by fame and greed, but it’s also a much broader story of how our whole culture has undergone the same thing, with the rise of reality TV, social media, and our emphasis on spectacle over substance. I hope this play resonates on both levels.”
Never Ever Land Written by Rider Strong
Directed by Michael A. Shepperd
Presented by Theatre Unleashed
Produced by Andrew Carlberg, Jenn Scuderi Crafts and Gregory Crafts
SYNOPSIS: Theatre Unleashed presents Never Ever Land, the world premiere play by former child star and accomplished writer and director Rider Strong. Young Tim Gable’s family accused the world’s most famous singer of sex crimes in 1993. With the settlement, they walked away millionaires. Now, Tim is ready to tell the public the truth…but does he even know what that is? Helmed by acclaimed director Michael A. Shepperd and produced by Oscar-winner Andrew Carlberg, this bold, fictional new work offers a unique and deeply personal take on one of the most shocking lawsuits of all time and its lasting affects for one family in particular. It also takes a hard look at our celebrity culture in general, from all sides of the looking glass.
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.
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
* Member of the Theatre Unleashed Ensemble æ Appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association
About Ada and the Engine
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 soul-mate, 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. 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.
This production is presented under the auspices of the Actors’ Equity Los Angeles Membership Company Rule.
Ada and the Engine is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service.