The Story Collider's Erin Barker on Finding Human Connection Through Scientific Storytelling

By Brigitte Carreiro for WORLD Channel

Executive Director of The Story Collider describes the chemistry of mixing science with storytelling on
Stories from the Stage.

Science and storytelling. A match made in heaven? In the eyes of Erin Barker, it certainly is. Barker, co-founder and executive director of The Story Collider, a science storytelling nonprofit, created the organization 11 years ago with a few physicist friends; at the intersection of the sciences and performance, the group saw a unique opportunity.

“We had this idea that by sharing stories about science, we can connect people to science in a different way, in a more human way, in a more emotional way, and show everybody that they have a voice in it, a role to play,” Barker said.

Introduced to storytelling by her now-husband while working a “boring” data entry job out of college, Barker started getting on stage as a way to both flex dormant creative muscles and practice public speaking – something she had a “very deep fear” of.

Today, Barker shares stories across the country, having twice won The Moth’s GrandSLAM competition and appeared on PRX’s The Moth Radio Hour. Her stories have also been included in the New York Times-bestselling book The Moth: 50 True Stories. She joins us on Stories from the Stage to share a story about an awkward moment of adolescence with her father that ultimately brought them closer together.

WORLD Channel: How do science and storytelling fit together?

Erin Barker: I don't have a background in science, and I had never expected stories about science would be so interesting. When my co-founders came up with this idea, I thought it was going to be a little boring. Then, I went to the show, and saw first-hand how human the stories were and how relatable they were. I connected with science in a whole different way than I ever had in school, so I love giving people that experience. Storytelling is this great tool for human empathy and understanding, and we're just applying that to science, which I think is really valuable, especially right now when there's some mistrust between the public and science.

WC: What draws you to storytelling?

EB: If you want to get scientific about it, it's one of the most effective forms of communication, because you are able to engage people on that level. They can become transported into your story and experience the fluctuation of emotions that the storyteller is experiencing. It’s an incredible tool, and it's my way of being able to explain myself to the world…why I am the way I am. And I think a lot of storytellers feel that way about it.

With Story Collider, we get to work with a lot of first-time storytellers. There's nothing better than seeing somebody go up for the first time to tell a story and kill it. And [then] see that look on their face when they step off stage, knowing they did a great job. I love giving people that experience.

WC: The story you told on Stories from the Stage deals with menstruation, a subject that remains taboo to talk openly about. Why did you choose to share this experience?

EB: I love to tell stories about my family, because they're significant to me; I think they're hilarious. The most meaningful stories I tell are the ones that are about them. And sometimes it's tough, because I can't bring the full context of our relationships into any of these stories, and I hate when somebody listening thinks of one of them as a villain. I love my family. We're super close now, so it's important that everyone knows that, and really special to have their support in telling these stories.

I would hope that [audiences] would take away that your life is full of these traumarama moments: they're inevitable and temporary, but family and the relationships that we have are forever.

Watch Erin Barker tell her story on First, now streaming online and on the Facebook, YouTube and PBS apps, or listen to the episode on Stories from the Stage: The Podcast.

Learn more about The Story Collider online or by
listening to their podcast

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