Why does an actor need good math skills?

Two female actors performing on stage with black background

That was the question I asked myself a few years ago. I used to joke that as an actor, it was only my job to pretend to have good math skills, not to actually have them. It was the summer of 2013 and I had just finished my Pre-Algebra math course. I was 16 years old and had just begun classes at Lone Star College-Kingwood the semester before. I had been homeschooled for most of my life and was nervous about starting college. I took the placement test and scored high 90s on everything except math. In math, I scored in the low 30s. After a few meetings with an advisor I was informed that I could take all of my other classes at college-level, but with math I would have to begin with the most basic-level courses and work my way up.

What a feeling. A 16-year-old kid who had taught herself since 7th grade was starting college, but couldn’t quite live up to all of her own expectations. I was bummed. I wanted to make my parents proud and I felt embarrassed that not all of my classes would be at college-level. I was going to have to take three basic-level math courses before I could even THINK about something like College Algebra, which was the standard math requirement for a Fine Arts degree. I begrudgingly made my way through the first of those three classes and passed with a B. I was disappointed by how much I had struggled through the first class and felt pretty hopeless about the ones to come. That was until the folks at the Dana Center waltzed into my life.

I was sitting at my computer getting ready to register for fall classes (including the much-dreaded second math class). As I was preparing to register, I noticed an unusual email in my inbox. I opened it and read about a new kind of math class that was being introduced that fall. It was a course pathway that was designed for people who didn’t necessarily need math for their major and/or career field and it offered an alternative to taking College Algebra.

In other words, it was the answer to my prayers.

The next day I went to the information session and learned all about this new course. Easy-to-understand problems? Minimal algebra involved? Real-world problems to examine such as calculating sale prices or credit card debt, AND the only requirement is to have taken pre-algebra? Sign me up, sign me up, sign me up!

The class was everything it promised to be and more. It actually was broken down and intentionally written to be easy-to-understand and accessible to all levels of intellect. We actually did real-world problems like calculating sale prices and credit card debt. The class worked together like a family. After a while we all understood that regardless of how smart we were, regardless of our major or our reason for taking the class, we were all there for the same reason: math is hard and we need help.  

That class (and the college-level Statistics class that followed) allowed me to experience what it was like to not hate math for a moment. I didn’t hate math, I suppose. I just hated the fact that I could never understand it. Those classes changed that. Don’t get excited – by no means did I leave those classes a math expert. There were still days where I just wanted to throw my textbook onto the ground and solemnly swear to never test another hypothesis for as long as I lived. But then there were those beautiful days where it all clicked. I actually got it. I left feeling like I was capable of doing it. I left with hope.

So, does an actor need to be good at math? Well that depends on a few…..variables. *ba dum tss*

I was convinced that as an actor I wouldn’t need math in my life. Boy, was I wrong. Now, two years later, I have graduated and working full-time as a professional actor. I use math every single day in my job. What kind of camera angles are we using and how much distance needs to be between myself and the camera? X pages of dialogue equals X minutes of screen time? What is the probability that this film will be commercially successful and how do I calculate the estimated profits? Math becomes even more relevant once you get behind the camera. With any type of photography you have to understand focal lengths, apertures, depth of field, etc. These are all expressed in mathematical terms.

Ultimately, I can’t imagine not having taken these classes. Not only did they get me to my degree and allow me to focus on my major, but they allowed me to see that math is not the bane of my existence after all! It’s an incredibly important and useful tool that will be used by everyone, regardless of what they may think. After taking the classes I recommended them to any and every person that I thought could use them. I still do that to this day. I hope that students continue to take the leap into this incredible program and leave feeling as enriched as I did.


About the Author
Kaleena Steakle

Kaleena Steakle

Kaleena Steakle is an actor, writer, and director based out of Houston, Texas. She earned her Associate of Arts degree from Lone Star College-Kingwood in 2015. In her spare time she enjoys reading, writing, watching movies, and traveling.