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Mills’ Math Club goes thespian

It’s a classic story of a man and a woman falling in love and conceiving — only, in this case, their offspring is a mathematical theorem instead of a human infant. A Difficult Delivery was the skit performed by the Mills’ math club, which plans to perform this and an additional skit on March 29, in Danforth Lecture Hall.

The skit was written by mathematician Colin Adams about an algebraic geometer and a number theorist who fall in love and soon discover that they are “with theorem.” The play is a parody of the typical cycle of child-bearing between the two characters Karen and Jeff, played by sophomores Kaila Stevenson and Abby Diamond Massarano.

At a recent Computer Science and Mathematics department dinner on March 5, the Math Club performed at the Reinhardt Alumnae House in front of a full audience. Yet, some of the language was not familiar to all in attendance.

“It was hilarious and surprisingly accessible considering I didn’t know how to apply half of the math terms used within the dialogue,” said Kim Ip, a sophomore computer science major.

The dialogue between the lovers has been substituted by math puns that more than just math enthusiasts can enjoy. Although some of the lingo is a bit technical, the performers bring enough personality to entertain a varied audience.

When asked what those who are out of the math loop will be able to enjoy from the skit, Massarano said, “I will be giving birth to a theorem which will be hilarious.”

Averett, the advisor of the math club, and the club say the plays aren’t about testing your math vocabulary, but more about bringing an appreciation for math and breaking the stereotypes of math students as having a strictly technical mindset.

“Even mathematics majors won’t get all of the jokes,” said Professor Maia Averett, one of the audience members who understood every joke. “I was explaining that it was a lemmas class, not a lamaze class,” she said, “A lemma is a baby theorem that is used in proving another theorem.” And a lamaze class is a breathing exercise for pregnant women.

The club made sure to take their audience into account.

“I read a packet of skits and chose the two I thought would be the most accessible for those that aren’t in math,” said Tala Councilman, president of the math club.

Along with A Difficult Delivery, the club will also be performing A Killer Theorem about Mangum P.I. In this case the name is Mangum instead of Magnum and P.I. stands for principal investigator instead of private investigator, another math joke. Anyone who has earned the National Science Foundation grant for mathematics is given the title principal investigator. Both written by Colin Adams, the two plays follow similar cliched stories that are only unique in their use of math vocabulary.

“It’s a parody of old film noir,” said Councilman, describing A Killer Theorem.

Adams is the author of the textbook for the special topics class Topology taught by Professor Maia Averett, who suggested the skits for the club to consider performing.

Adams wrote the plays for the Mathematical Intelligencer, a scholarly mathematics journal that aims at a less technical audience. The mini-plays are entertainment for those math experts that have a sense of humor. These and other writings by Adams can be found in the journal through the Mills library in print or the online catalog as ebooks.

Averett suggested the club consider performing the plays and provided the group with multiple options to choose from.

“I’m always looking for fun activities to spread wider appreciation for math to those who aren’t in the math community,” said Averett.

The club also plans an upcoming movie night where the film Fermat’s Last Tango will be shown. The movie is about a proof written for a theorem 356 years after the theorem was originally set forth, as described on IMDB. Look for the date in student news.

Last semester the club got the mathemagician Art Benjamin to speak at Mills. Benjamin combines magic and math to amaze his audience. You can find his TED talk online.

At another meeting, the club held an event to bring together the arts with math called the Mathematics of Doodling. This lecture showed that boredom-driven doodling actually has mathematics behind it.

The math club meets on alternate Tuesdays at 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in CPM 206. The next meeting will be held on March 27 and is open for anyone to join.