Trillian Stars, a local actress, is quite the geek, and likes to let that show on stage. Her stage credits include performing in a steampunk version of Twelfth Night, a production of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and starting next week, she takes on the role of Ada Lovelace, the woman widely considered to be the first computer programmer.
The show, Childe Byron, is at the Allens Lane Theater, running September 28th through October 13th. For more information (like exact dates and tickets), visit the theater’s official website. Fun fact… the play opens on Trillian’s birthday. Happy b’day, Trill.
Trillian is a nickname my husband has called me since shortly after we met. I was in a production of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” at Curio Theatre in West Philadelphia back in 2007 and Kyle, who knew one of the other actors in the cast, came to the closing night performance and stayed for the after party.
By the time I realized he thought my name actually WAS Trillian, several weeks later, it had stuck. The “Stars” portion came around when I tried to think of a good internet name to attach to my public blog. I agree, it’s pretty great.
What drew you to playing Ada Lovelace?
When I was working at Borders Books in early 2002, I was allowed to borrow any book from the shelves. I’ve always been a lover of biographies, and so I haunted that section of the store and was immediately drawn to a new book, “The Bride of Science,” by Benjamin Woolley, about a woman I had, at that time, never heard of. I’ve been in love with Ada ever since, fascinated that a woman in the mid-19th century could have had such an impact on what is still considered a male-dominated field, computer technology and programming… and at a time when computers didn’t even exist.
I love having the opportunity to play a woman whose life is so well documented; usually an actor’s homework involves coming up with your own character history, limited only by imagination. With Ada, however, I’ve had an amazing journey through the 19th Century, reading her letters and the letters of her father, Lord Byron, as well as Byron’s poetry. She was a fantastically complex person and is extremely difficult to portray with complete justice, because there were so many contradictions in her personality… both a woman of her time and ahead of it, poetic but scientific, cold yet emotional… and she often contradicted herself from one letter to another, making it difficult to pin her down and determine motivations.
A challenge like Ada is enough to draw me as an actor; there’s a need to get inside her head and look around, find the solution to this wonderful, complicated woman, just as Ada tries to discover the solution to her father, Lord Byron, in the play.
Trillian as Ada
Do you find that you relate to the character at all?
I relate to Ada’s passion. At the time of the play, Ada knows she is dying and is wildly trying to tie the ends of her life together and come to terms with the mystery that is her father, a man she never knew; she flies from frustration, to understanding, to elation and back again. As an actor, I’ve felt all of those emotions when researching a play and am on the cusp of a great discovery. And I think everyone can relate to the ambivalent feelings Ada has toward both her parents — her embarrassment over her father’s indiscretions and scandals, which led her to hide her relationship to him in her life, yet her desire to attach herself to him in death, asking to be buried next to him in his family vault. Inconsistent perhaps, but human.
Reading her letters, I was struck by how tirelessly she tried to find and create meaning in her life. She was only 36 when she died, but she never stopped thinking about what kind of a legacy she wanted to leave the world. These are concerns I have too; in a world made up of sound bites and text messages, what kind of permanent mark do I want to leave behind? Mostly however, I wish I could have known Ada so that I might receive some of her wonderful, doodle covered letters.
Are there any other geeks like Ada that you look up to?
I’m most interested in geeks in unlikely places; Hedy Lamarr, for example, the film star from the 1930s and ’40s, who could so easily have done nothing but be beautiful and act in other people’s projects, but developed the Frequency-hopping Spread-spectrum in 1942 as a way to guide torpedoes so they couldn’t be jammed by the enemy. Strangely, in some ways it seems it was more difficult for a woman in the 1940s to be taken seriously than it was 100 years earlier for Ada, and it was 20 years before the invention was implemented by the military, and longer than that before she received recognition for the invention.
What are your thoughts on Philly’s art / theater scene? How can someone get more involved?
It really does seem that Philly is having a theatrical boom, with new, exciting theatres popping up every year. The city and arts community are small enough so that it does feel like there’s an interconnected network of artists and performers to draw on for support, which makes collaboration between theatres and art forms more feasible than it is elsewhere.
When Curio Theatre did their Steampunk “Twelfth Night” two years ago, Steampunk clothing designers and collectors, composers and artists came forward to lend a hand; it was amazing. The best way to get involved is simply to volunteer. Theatres are always looking for ushers or envelope stuffers or set painters and it’s a great way to get in the door and make yourself known. Who knows where it might lead from there?
What are your favorite things about living and performing in Philadelphia?
I lived in NYC for five years before moving to Philadelphia, and I enjoyed the feeling of anonymity there; it was rare to randomly run into anyone I knew, which is a sort of freedom. However, by the time I moved to Philly, I was ready to feel like I had a home, where people stayed for longer than a season and remembered each other from year to year. I’ve found that here.
I love belonging to a neighborhood like West Philly, filled with the ethnic diversity of a large city, but with the space and back yards of a small town. And my dream, even while living in NY, was to be part of a company that allowed you to grow as an artist and gave you the opportunity to play the widest range of roles. That dream can be realized in a city like Philadelphia, filled as it is with small, ensemble-based theatre companies.
For our readers that want to learn more about you, where can they go? Website? Twitter? Etc?