The show focuses on a correspondence between Julian Munro, a fictional Union soldier reluctantly fighting in the Civil War, and Ada Lovelace, mathematician and real life daughter of Lord Byron. Together, the two design an intelligent machine meant to put an end to slavery and war and establish peace.
What did I experience?
César Alvarez and Sammy Tunis, as themselves, walked on stage, and began to sing a song about an African American man named Sylvester Magee. Born a slave in 1841, Magee claimed to have fought in the Union Army during the American Civil War and to have lived to see the Space Age. Alvarez then informed us that the musical wasn't about this amazing man who had seen so much change during his lifetime, but was about Julian Munro and Ada Lovelace, who would be brought to life by Alvarez and Tunis, respectively. Julian Munro was a totally made up Union soldier who believed in the promise of technological advancement, and Ada Lovelace, a brilliant writer and one of the first computer programmers in recorded history.
Julian, well aware of Ada's flair for mathematics, wrote to her asking for her opinion on the possibility of a thinking machine that would create a peaceful world, and thus sparked a lengthy and completely professional exchange of letters between the two.
The Union army portrayed on stage was a troop of musicians that wielded instruments far more powerful than any weapons. As a musician myself, it was hard not to be affected by the sight of them, standing at attention in their uniforms and yet clutching flutes and violins in the place of firearms, as if they could save their lives. And perhaps they could. I wondered: What kind of world would we live in if every time a person sought to harm another person, they created something instead? The words, "Make music, not war" came to mind...
I realized then that if the soldiers had in fact been holding guns, it wouldn't have touched me the way that it did.
Art will always carry more weight than violence.
The intellectual machine of Julian and Ada's design was fueled by steam and dubbed "The Steam Brain." When they revealed their invention on stage, a towering, clunky form comprised of nuts, bolts, gears, and bicycle wheels, I was stunned. After hearing about the thing in written word and song throughout the show, I hadn't expected to see it in anything but my imagination. And "The Stream Brain" exceeded all of my expectations, functioning as a non-conventional drum set in addition to being a solution to all of the world's problems.
Futurity got me thinking:
What are the limits of technological advancement? Is there such thing as an intelligent machine capable of overcoming all earthly obstacles? We already have the Internet, which, as far as I'm concerned, has no limitations...
But is the Internet enough to put a stop to senseless, harmful acts?
When Julian criticized the concept of war, Ada's initial response was, "Sometimes war is the only option." But Julian didn't accept that answer, arguing that her mindset stemmed from a lack of imagination. How would the world fare if war was NEVER an option, if there was no choice but to think a little deeper in order to find an appropriate course of action?