Striding confidently on to the stage in little more than her early 19th century underwear, and some really fancy boots (apparently designed by Lady Gaga’s boot designers) Zoe Philpott, solo performer, chief imaginator and originator of the fascinating digital tribute to (Countess) Ada Lovelace, Ada Ada Ada, opens the show with a warm, welcoming, very casual introduction – considering that she is only dressed in a chemise and corset!
Introducing her technical support, Kady, Zoe continues to talk through an introduction to the show, while Kady works around her setting up the huge and heavy looking 19th digital dress – loaded with over 4400 individually controlled LEDs connected to a battery pack, wifi, Arduino computer board and a beautiful satin glove (made by the glove-makers to the Queen, no less) with finger pads that would allow her to control the LEDs on the dress. Unfortunately, the glove did not work during the show that we watched, so the LEDs were remotely controlled.
The audience, the majority of whom are school girls and their teachers and a smattering of home educated children with their parents sit in silent awe as the hoops and eventually layers of the dress go on. Eventually Ada is transformed into an impressive display mash up of Victorian lady and digital display.
Zoe Philpott does a great job, of first, introducing the technology that goes in to the dress itself, in a not-so-subtle effort of highlighting STE(A)M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) to the girls in the audience and the potential opportunities and outcomes of studying and engaging in Science at school.
Once in role, Zoe effortlessly transverses between the various versions of Ada, and a storyteller, with a very clear distinction in voice, tonal rhythm and cadence. Ada’s story is compelling; the fact that she was Lord Byron’s brought surprise to even a few adults in the audience – so complete was her mother’s agenda in separating father from daughter.
Told from the perspective of both Ada herself, and in part third person, Zoe manages to weave a beautiful tale of the life, experience, gifts and travesties of Ada Lovelace. She incorporates many curious, interesting facts and keeps the audience, pretty bunch spell-bound with her narrative. Her attempt to physically engage the audience, creating among them a representation of Babage’s Analytical Machine, provided some form of activity which kept the participants engaged and amused.
While the dress lit up with numbers and patterns and moving gears to make a point, it was really at the finale, when almost all the LED’s were lit in a bright dazzling display, that you were reminded of the ingenuity of the technology incorporated in to the dress.
As a digital performance, the dress did seem a bit gimmicky. Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing piece of technology, and with wearable tech still a fairly young but quickly growing field, to see it working properly would have been a treat. The point to make here is that while the show Ada Ada Ada was quite specific about getting girls more involved in Science, a fact that is not lost on this author, the technology for the dress itself was created by men too.
While the show was an interesting, entertaining and very informative piece and Zoe Philpott is certainly a gifted performer, making it solely about getting more girls in to Science seems far removed from the actually journey of how the dress came in to being.
What may perhaps be more useful as a main aim, isn’t to pitch it as a ‘Call to Science’ for just girls, but perhaps a greater challenge to all children to be the very best that they can be. To be encouraged to allow their imaginations to grow and take flight, in the example that Ada Lovelace saw something in the Analytical engine (which was completely theoretical), that had not yet been created or even imagined, and she managed to create what is now deemed to be the world’s first computer programme from it.
Ada Ada Ada is definitely worth watching, even if the technology doesn’t always work as planned, the show must still go on.
If you’re ever in the vicinity of a performance, we would encourage you to catch it, and if you can sponsor or afford to bring the show to your area – do it. It might just inspire the next Ada!
For more details http://adatheshow.com/