By Max Vos
The room was dark and the crowd eager when she appeared; LadyNerd Keira Daley, eager to teach. Accompanied by her pianist sidekick Mark Chamberlain, Kiera bursts into song, introducing the concept of LadyNerds, the women who activated history and explored the unknown, all facing obstacles but overcoming them with willpower, skill, and wit.
“LadyNerd 2: Game of Nerds” premiered at the close of Fringe World 2017, in the Shambles theatre, and what a way for the festival to end with an 8-bit bang. The show was a sequel to Keira’s previous show LadyNerd; a “musical comedy that celebrates history’s finest braniacs” that won Sydney Fringe 2011’s Award for Excellence. The cabaret’s sequel set itself apart through audience interaction on a whole new level – the “choose-your-own-adventure” game style of the show put the ball in the audience’s court. We were able to elect every major decision by a major vote – our story was a democracy. We chose to explore the museum, fight the beast, rummage through the rubble, and save the Earth. Our story was different from any other audience’s.
The underlying story added a layer of competition to the informative musical. Our mission was simple; “find the artefacts, save the world”. We were the sole LadyNerd agent, accompanied by two robots (played by Keira and Mark), tasked with completing this mission and saving “Ethelea”, a second Earth that humans had escaped to “when Earth went … uhhh” (Keira and Mark loosen their collars as they say this). It was also our task to discover what had happened to Earth.
Along the way, we found multiple artefacts, including Katherine Johnson’s slide rule, Nellie Bly’s gripsack, and Caroline Herschel’s Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. We were educated about these figures on our adventure too- through musical number. Katherine Johnson was an African American mathematician and physicist who worked for NASA; Nellie Bly was a phenomenal journalist who travelled the world in 72 days; Caroline Herschel was a pioneering astronomer who discovered eight comets while ill with typhus and suffering vision loss in her left eye. Kiera’s attitude toward these women and their treatment was not tainted with spite for the past but rather a desperate and cheerful desire to celebrate the under-celebrated.
The game aspect spoke volumes about the way their worlds worked – there were opportunities for success and paths to failure, and every decision mattered. When these figures were faced with sexism, racism, doubt, and difficulty, they chose their own adventure and moved forward. When everybody is against you, you keep on playing your game and try for the high score.
Much like the LadyNerds Keira was inspired by, her zest and talent was undeniable. Her vocal prowess was impossible to ignore and perfectly exhibited in her writing and performance of original songs, and her sense of humour was contagious. She remained consistently bright-eyed and articulate, particularly in the musical number about how most people get their grammar “FUCKING WRONG!”
We eventually were told what happened to the Earth, by none other than zombie Marie Curie; a nuclear accident had destroyed us, and “only the undead survived!” At the end of our journey, Kiera emerged dressed as a mutated beast that the audience was able to destroy with Velcro-covered table tennis balls, which we were given before the doors opened. We took down the monster, but failed our mission; instead of returning to save the savage and unstable home planet “Ethelea”, we decided unanimously to repair and restore the Earth.
“So, what’s the score?” Keira asks the sound techs in the back of the room.
“WOOHOO! High score guys!” Keira shouts, and the audience explodes in whooping and applause. The crowd was welcomed to return the next (and final) night of the show, to see if we could change our story- and change the course of history.