Nerds are generally viewed as basement-dwelling, awkward introverts obsessed with non-social hobbies. But um...actually, the organizers of Nerd Nite Edmonton see nerdism as a pursuit of passions that are merely outside the norm and being a nerd definitely doesn't have to be non-social.
“It’s a lecture series in a bar. It's like TedX with fewer rules and more beer.” – Adam Rozenhart
Wade Kelly and Adam Rozenhart are the self-proclaimed "nerd bosses" behind bringing the Nerd Nite speaker series to the city. The speaker series began in Boston in 2003 and has been sort of franchised to organizers in cities all over the world. The first of its kind in Edmonton, Nerd Nite is, as Rozenhart describes, "a lecture series in a bar. It's like TedX with fewer rules and more beer." The monthly event is Kelly and Rozenhart's way of bringing people together and providing a stage for people to share their passions. They see themselves as "facilitators of passion".
Speakers are allotted enough time to both speak about their topics as well as entertain questions from the audience. What Kelly and Rozenhart see as setting Nerd Nite apart from other lecture series is the interaction with the audience (also, the beer). Patrons in the past have been able to pass around a 3D-printed prosthetic and were allowed to delicately handle parts of a Mars meteorite. They've brought the event to Edmonton through their own personal investment. They don’t get paid, but the speeches on topics that pique their interest is payment enough (the beer helps too).
Presenters are anyone from amateurs to professionals, DJs to university professors. Past speakers have included a Juno-nominated symphony composer who chronicled a typical day in his life, a French horn player with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra who detailed the history and science of her instrument, and a retired cop who talked not about cleaning up the streets but rather his love for Swiss watches. All of the speakers are simply passionate people who have a willingness to share information about their interests.
"Not just comic books and science are nerdy." - Wade Kelly
The night consists of three speakers, each of whom is given approximately 30 minutes to speak on their personal topics. Speakers are chosen from a variety of disciplines. Kelly says, "Not just comic books and science are nerdy." He tries to choose one speaker from the arts, one from the sciences, and another passionate nerd from no specific field to speak about his or her personal interest. He culls the speakers anywhere from word of mouth to professional connections to his own personal research through the media and the web.
Starbucks' CEO, Howard Schultz, made famous the concept of "the third place": a place where people gather outside first and second places, home and workplace. Kelly says this idea was adopted for Nerd Nite. The event is trying to bring people together in person and offline. Kelly and Rozenhart are providing a platform for nerds to share topics of interest with a broader audience and exposing the audience to topics they wouldn't normally seek out; while TedX seeks to motivate audiences, Kelly describes Nerd Nite as, "education not inspiration". The draw is the night itself as opposed to the specific topics presented. Kelly and Rozenhart want patrons to come in with an open mind and be exposed to something new by someone with a deep understanding for what he or she is presenting.
The idea to bring the night to Edmonton came from Kelly crossing paths a few times with Nerd Nite’s founder Matt Wasowski. It was something that, Kelly felt, Edmonton didn’t have: a lecture and networking speaker series with a conversational atmosphere.
Kelly and Rozenhart have also previously put on unique Nerd Nites in collaboration with other organizations. They once teamed with the U of A’s Undergraduate Research Initiative, which allowed four students to give shorter presentations with a fifth presentation from an established academic. They’ve also worked in association with the Fringe Festival. Otherwise, since its introduction to Edmonton, Nerd Nite has kept its format of three speakers consistent but the audience has steadily grown. Their first event was held at The Go Go Lounge, and with over 60 guests in attendance, tickets sold out. They quickly moved into a larger space, The Haven Social Club, for their second Nerd Nite allowing for about double the capacity. For their twelfth evening, a third venue hosted their night, the Citadel Theatre. The theatre's capacity of 175 patrons most recently sold out in 6 days for their next show. Nerd Nite Edmonton's local popularity and interesting format influenced former patrons and speakers to spawn Nites in Canmore, Banff, Vancouver, and Calgary.
“It’s education not inspiration.” – Wade Kelly
Nerd Nite is about people interacting in person and learning something new. You might look at it like this: Wade has an interest in terrazzo floors. Were he to speak at the event, his presentation would be something along the lines of a man walks into a building, stares at the floor then talks about it. He has never designed, poured or finished a terrazzo floor, nor does he work in the flooring industry. He just loves them, has sought out more information than a Wikipedia search would provide, and wants to share that love with you. Kelly and Rozenhart are using Nerd Nite to bring nerds and their niche passions out into the public and to educate the city, all with their tongues in their cheeks.
The next Nerd Nites are Apr. 3 and May 8. Tickets are available through the Citadel Theatre's website and dates are posted on the Nerd Nite Edmonton website.