Mathematics as Art in Contemporary Theatre

18 October 2010, 12:45 - 14:00

CRASSH

Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work-in-Progress seminar series.  All welcome, no registration necessary.  Sandwich lunch and refreshments provided.

Dr Stephen Abbott (Mathematics/Middlebury)

Abstract

While there are a few notable plays written about mathematics and science throughout the previous century, a qualitative shift in the relationship between science and theater occurred sometime in the past decade following the success of Arcadia (Tom Stoppard, 1993) and Copenhagen (Michael Frayn, 1999).  In the ensuing years, theater has seen a proliferation of successful plays that manage to synthesize explicit mathematical ideas into both the theme and mechanics of the performance. 

This is not a case of theater simply mining science for interesting source material.  What happens in the best mathematical plays is that the metaphors work in both directions as does the sense of illumination.  This cross-pollination is most easily experienced in plays with explicit mathematical content (A Disappearing Number, Proof) but it can also be analyzed in relation to form.  In fact, a defining trait of modern science plays is the successful way in which they exploit the merging of form and content.  What is significant is that 20th century mathematics—and in particular mathematical logic—is also characterized by investigations into the consequences of merging form and content.  These structural similarities reveal an even deeper kinship between drama and mathematics than might be expected.

 

To access the Readings for the Work in Progress seminar, please contact Michelle Maciejewska.