INTERVIEW From Dot Product to Drama

An MIT Alumna Tells Her Personal Story

Gioia De Cari, the writer/performer of Truth Values, received a Masters degree at MIT in Mathematics and was enrolled in the PhD program before she left to pursue a career in acting. De Cari’s play Truth Values: One Girl’s Romp Through MIT’s Male Math Maze is an autobiographical solo show showing at Central Square Theater from Thursday, September 10th to Sunday, September 20th. De Cari’s play is aimed at telling her personal story of her experiences at MIT and explores the world of women in math and science. It is presented by the Underground Railway Theater and directed by Miriam Eusebio. For selected performances, the play will be followed by discussions with scientists and artists from both MIT and Harvard.

The Tech: How long have you wanted to discuss the issue of women in the field of math and science?

Gioia De Cari: It’s not an educational play although a lot of people seem to think it is. At least, it wasn’t created for the purpose of education. I struggled for a long time with the idea of creating a theatrical story based on my life. That was the impetus. It was something I worked on for many years. As for the issue of women in the field of math and science, no, it wasn’t the focus. It happens to speak to the issue. Really, my goal was to share a personal history in a theatrical way with all of its messiness, all of its humor, and all of its compassion. So that’s what it is. It’s a story that’s messy, because life is messy.

TT: What do you think women in math and science can do in order to survive and flourish successfully in such a male-dominated field?

GD: Since I’m not in that world, I really don’t know. I think it would help a lot if the ratio of men to women were more equal. Having more women around would help the way science gets done. I do get to talk a lot of the women in science. One person thought that science would be better off if there was more diversity. I thought that was a fascinating idea but can I really comment with any expertise on that? No.

TT: You’ve completely left the field of math and science. Do you have any regrets about it?

GD: Not one single regret about leaving the field. I’m not an angry woman. The Boston Globe article said that I was an angry woman. It’s not that at all. I know I don’t regret it one bit.

TT: What made you decide to pursue theater as opposed to mathematics as your career? Do you think you will ever go back to mathematics?

GD: I really put it away. It’s very interesting that when I left MIT I never thought about it again. Except Fermat’s Enigma, that was great. I enjoyed that. That’s the only thing in all these years.

TT: If you could give a piece of advice to the Gioia of the past, what one piece of advice would you give?

GD: I’ve discovered a lot after writing and performing this play and the feedback I get about it. I think the advice I would give is remember that you are a human being and it’s okay. It’s okay to be a human being, it’s okay to make mistakes and not be perfect and all the things that come with being human. Looking back upon it now, I think that’s the one piece of advice I would have given to the Gioia in the past.

TT: During your time at MIT, did you participate in theater? What do you think of the theater program here?

GD: I started doing theater as a way to have an outlet. I have been doing acting, singing, and theater all my life. When I got to my academic core, I thought I could put it aside. I did start getting back into it when I was a graduate student at MIT. I was not affiliated with Dramashop. I did some student productions but they weren’t Dramashop. I did stuff across the bridge all the time in Boston.

TT: What would you suggest to an MIT student before he or she watches your show, to get rid of presumptions about the play being only about women in math and science?

GD: It’s a personal story telling, that’s what it is. I want them to see the play. I know that I’ve had a lot of MIT people come and show up already and they have such a great time because they understand every MIT joke. Because they get things that other people don’t and appreciate things that other people might not appreciate. I would definitely want people to know that. To sum up my new work by comparing it to existing works, well, it’s kind of like Blown Sideways True Life meets Proof. Blown Sideways True Life was a huge hit, and the play and the film of Proof was quite successful.

TT: Do you think that the topic of women in math and science is something noteworthy for the entertainment industry to invest in?

GD: Well the thing about theatrical entertainment is that when you tell stories you touch a lot of people’s hearts, in a way that other things don’t. Maybe, something like Proof got people thinking about women being mathematicians, and it made them think about women in a way people didn’t before. I think it’s a fantastic thing. That’s the wonderful thing of theatrical storytelling. If we just talk about women being underrepresented in a seminar or a symposium, it doesn’t have the same impact on society as if you tell a theatrical story. It would be fantastic to have more stories on things like that.