Society has a lot to thank nerds for, and Sydney performer Keira Daley isn’t letting us forget it
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Keira Daley is a nerd. That’s no insult, either – in 2011, she took the Sydney Fringe by storm with Ladynerd, her quirky cabaret tribute to history’s most important female geeks and now, Keira is set to conquer the world. Her World Nerdination Tour kicks off in Sydney before heading to Brisbane, Adelaide and Edinburgh, but Time Out managed to ply her with Doctor Who DVDs and diet caffeine-free cola long enough for a quick chat.
So Keira, what's a lady nerd? Is this show your coming out as a nerd yourself?
Good lord, no, I have never been a closet nerd! My nerddom has always been as irrepressible as Monkey Magic (see?). I did recently ask my director, Jay James-Moody, if I should add a spiel at the start of the show to state my nerd cred, and he said “No, it’s clear as soon as you open your mouth.” By my definition, a nerd is someone who is more interested in concepts than appearances – definitely a substance-over-style mindset. And nerds tend to have an obsessive streak, which is a key aspect of this show – that the perceivably weird or overlooked things nerds get obsessed with can lead to world-changing discoveries. The ‘lady’ element is in there so I’d have characters to play without too much suspension of disbelief. That said, I do give Pierre Curie an airing...
Who are some of the lady nerds included in the show?
Marie Curie, who gets my prize for The Ultimate Ladynerd – two-time Nobel winner, lived and literally died for her work on radioactivity. Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. Bette Nesmith Graham, a 1950s single mother who invented liquid paper. Movie star Hedy Lamarr was co-inventor of frequency hopping technology, which is a basis for wi-fi and mobile telephony. And there’s a bit of Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart, and a bunch of other more obscure figures thrown in for good measure. Oh, and me – I haven’t done anything world-changing, but I am keen to ride the coattails of history’s high achievers.
What kind of research went into LadyNerd? How long did it take to craft it?
It was like researching a school assignment, really, only then I had to take the information and make it dramatically interesting. A big part of the process was finding stories I connected with emotionally. All up, it took me about eight months to go from page to stage for the first time in what I called Ladynerd: a Prototype. I changed it again for its premiere at Sydney Fringe last year. And, over a year on, what you’ll see in June is version 4.0.
Were there any lady nerds that didn't make the cut?
Yes, quite a few. The main one that I really wish I could’ve fit into the show is Rosalind Franklin. She played a crucial role in uncovering the double helix structure of DNA but died of ovarian cancer at 37 and never got to reap the rewards of her work. Debate still goes on, apparently, about whether she should’ve received more credit than she did. It’s a sad story and I would’ve loved to help make her story better known.
Nerds aren't renowned for their extroverted personalities. Why was cabaret the best way to tell their stories?
A big part of LadyNerd is reclaiming ‘nerd’. You can be a great communicator, a popular human being, even a hugely glamorous star and still be a nerd. I’m a nerd and I’ve always been an extroverted smartarse who loves music, so cabaret was the obvious pick for me as a soloist. Besides, nobody else seemed to be blending nerd history with cabaret.
You're taking the show to Edinburgh in August for the Fringe. I guess this means lady nerds strike a chord all over the world?
I hope so. In a pop culture where so much stupidity is rewarded, where women in particular are valued for their appearance over their ability, and in which the apostrophe is so callously misused, I feel we need the nerdy chimes to resonate far and wide!
If you had to play a man nerd, who would it be?
I already do, as Pierre Curie. He’s such a badass – he rides a bicycle.