Kevin Lapin

Mad Math(s)

A wacky, absurd and lyrical presentation on that most hilarious of subjects: mathematics!

Mr. X and Mr. Y, a duo of seriously screwy professors, rigorously explain to you their erudite theories on zero, infinity, PVC pipes and the importance of the zebra in numeration.

A show for the dunces, the traumatized and the nerds which has been multiplying its performances around the world (Paris, Avignon, Algeria, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, USA, Indonesia, Laos, Qatar, Singapore, Mexico…).


Because you don’t meet logarithms or differential functions walking down the street, but you might meet someone who’s got an angle or whose always going off on a tangent.

Because everyone knows Pythagorus and his theorem about the hypotenuse of a triangle, but few people know that he died because he refused to cross a field of beans.

Because at night when your school notebooks are sleeping, the sine and cosine waves meet on the graph paper and dance…

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Write what you know… In creating Mad Math(s) (Mad Maths in the original French), that is exactly what we did. It was almost a challenge: could we make real theater that is really about math? That is to say not a play where the main character happens to be a mathematician, and not a lesson plan hiding behind a red nose and big shoes, but a play that actually talks about math in an exciting and accessible way to anyone from 9-99 years old. An impossible challenge? Well, it seemed like a good one to the two of us, fresh out of theater school and living in Paris, an American (me) who liked to read physics books in his spare time and a Frenchmen (Olivier Faliez) with a masters in math…

Return to math… To create a play about math means to a certain extent creating a mathematical play, which is to say a play that is scientifically precise. So we started with a good dose of research and review, hitting the books to be sure that everything we said would be mathematically accurate. This also helped us remember what it was like to be students again. Evoking the subject of math, equates to evoking memories, sometimes good but more often bad, of high-school math classes. Though one of our goals was to show people that math isn’t just a subject that you are forced to take in school, these tedious—even tortuous—memories are ultimately and unavoidably what we all have in common with math, and therefore the perfect starting place for the play. The trick would then be to bring the audience back to this familiar territory and then quickly (before the traumatic flashbacks set in) whisk them away to new and unexpected mathematical terrain. So our play would be set up like a class or lecture, but how to surprise you with math’s hidden treasures of mystery, absurdity and humor?

Stick with math… Big words and ideas for a silly little play about math, right? But that’s it, math is hard. It demands a certain rigor and precision, and the temptation, for us as much as any student, is to avoid the issues, skirt around the topics and never get beyond the obvious parodies of math nerds (not that Mr. X and Mr. Y don’t wear glasses and enjoy a good round of triple- integration now and again!). “Mad Math” would also not be about finding real world applications of math, though laudable and even interesting, we wanted to stay close to the theoretical and occult aspects of the science. A television screen or field trip are better suited vehicles for discovering the wonders and math behind skyscrapers and pyramids. The stage and theater are just the place to find the magic and poetry in math, what’s hidden on the inside, or behind, that complicated formula. One has to look back on the time when math, science and meta-physics were all considered to be aspects of the same thing, the study of the meaning and the inner workings of life. These were truly religious questions, questions of life and death. Now those are dramatic stakes.

Talk math… How then to truly talk about math without losing either the theater or our audience? If we start by going back in time and understanding man (and woman’s) desperate need for reliable systems of -counting, measuring and calculating we’ve already begun to humanize the subject. Now if we imagine how the world would be different if we used different math to describe it, we are involved in a creative process. Finally, if we push these ideas to the extreme, turn them on their head and even transpose them a little, things will really get interesting. Where the theories and concepts touch on the absurd, where there are ambiguities, that’s where there the humor, humanity and, yes, even poetry is to be found in math… Suddenly, we find ourselves on familiar territory again, not that of the fastidious algebra lesson, but that of language, describing the world around us and- trying to understand why it’s the way it is and our place in it, questions which are at once essentially the territory of theater and mathematics. QED.

Such were our thoughts in creating Mad Math(s) and we hope that for about an hour (that is about the length of a class period), you will be able to share our fascination and pleasure in the world of mathematics…

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