Hello From The Story Collider's New Artistic Director

The unassuming email below, from March 2011, changed my life probably more than any other email I’ve ever sent.

At the time, of course, I had no idea. My friend Ben Lillie, a physicist and performer, had asked me the night before if I might be interested in helping him out with his science storytelling project since his partner, Brian Wecht, another physicist and performer, was moving to Boston and starting up the show there. I don’t think I could have been more surprised if he’d asked me to don a lab coat and conduct an open-heart surgery on the spot. I was honored that he thought I was capable, but I felt overwhelmingly unqualified. After all, unlike Ben and Brian, I was not a particle physicist. Not even close. The only science class I’d taken in college had been a course titled Plant Biology 101: Plants and People. Not exactly string theory.

“You know I don’t know anything about science, right?” I said.

“Oh, yes,” Ben said enthusiastically. “That’s why we chose you.”

Unsure whether to be flattered or offended, I went home and told my boyfriend, now husband, all my concerns. He listened carefully and then said, “Well, but you’re obviously going to do it, right?” And he was right. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. So the next morning I sent this email.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what “looked rad,” it was this postcard that Ben had created to promote the show in 2011.

I still think it looks rad. Especially the badass chick in the top left.

That was five years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten so much more than I ever bargained for. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work full-time producing these incredible shows. I’ve been fortunate to have so many storytellers share a piece of themselves with me, and our audience. I carry many of these stories with me every day. Many of them have challenged my assumptions and taught me more than I ever thought possible--sometimes even about science. For example, do you know what happens when sea urchins get cold?  Do you know how to solve a murder using the striations on a garbage bag? What a mucus plug is? The terrible things a guinea worm can do to the human body? This is all awesome and terrifying knowledge that I now have--for better or worse, in terms of my nightmares.

But even more significantly, I’ve Iearned about the lives of other people, scientists and civilians, and the challenges they face, the obstacles they overcome, their ability to find humor and grace in the worst of circumstances. Listening to the hundreds of storytellers I have worked with over the course of the past five years, I can’t help but be humbled by the honesty and vulnerability and generosity of our storytellers.

And I was humbled further, this week, when The Story Collider’s board voted to approve my promotion to artistic director.

As artistic director, I hope to carry on the legacy of my friend Ben, our co-founder and previous artistic director, as he transitions to a role on our board and directing special projects. Six years ago, Ben and Brian started something that now has a life of its own. I couldn’t be more proud of where we’ve ended up today.

I’m so excited to be leading such an amazing team of producers, and to be working alongside our fantastic executive director, Liz Neeley. And I’m even more excited to continue to hear your stories, to help shape them and be shaped by them.

Thank you, Story Collider community, for a great five years. Here’s to five more.

-- Erin Barker, artistic director of The Story Collider