Greg Tobo: A Mathematician at Play
Matt Clifford • August 22, 2016 • Boulder Fringe Festival •
Gregg Tobo is a self-professed “recreational mathematician.” Watching him ride the high of numbers makes one grateful they are still legal.
A Mathematician At Play is a whirlwind demonstration of the scopes of Tobo’s active mind. Calculators in hand, we go from the 3,500-year-old multiplication systems of the Babylonians to the gut-stretching limits of the fourth dimension. In between, we have a little fun with the topology of ropes, attempting to oscillate between a doughnut and pretzel, before stopping for a fashion lesson in socks and probability theory, which Tobo is able to play like a magician with a card deck, ready to impress the party. Your surprisingly hip, super-excited high school teacher, Tobo’s enthusiasm carries the show seamlessly along, young and old alike mesmerized by the laser precision of his mental computations, equally amused by each next trick. And for the grand finale, suddenly it has been an hour. Where does time go?
In terms of any aesthetic critique, I have little. A Mathematician At Play sets its objective as a family friendly fun and educational production, and wholly achieves this aim. My strongest reactions were through a series of personal affinities. I am an accountant (begrudgingly), poet, and musician. First and foremost, it was relieving to hear Tobo talk about math as not only practical, but theoretical. One of society’s big misperceptions is that accountants are good at math. Most accountants know very little of actual mathematics. We are good at arithmetic and following rules and obsessive compulsiveness. More important is his effort to bridge the gap between math and art. Accountants and poets often have the same reaction to each other: I don’t get it. We use words and numbers all day everyday, we can speak through the divisiveness of left/right brain tyranny, it’s not so scary. To this regard, I at one time (and perhaps someday again) organized and hosted an event called All Knowledge Must Be Shared, billed as a non-creative open mic where participants came and spoke on some topic of intellectual interest.
Watching Tobo light up, his speech fasten while his calculating fingers twirl columns in the air in front of him, as he worked his way through problems set up for his own delight, reminded me of the very best of that series, when the so-labeled non-creatives realized that they were artists too and became it in front of you. Like Gregg Tobo, a true mathemagician.
You can experience Greg Tobo’s A Mathematician at Play at the Free Motion – The Movement Center