Daniel Bird Tobin got his audience up on their feet January 28 at the New River Valley’s monthly Science on Tap event, which met over Zoom. Tobin is a theatre archeologist who likes to make scientific research more comprehensible for the public. His current job is teaching theatre, but he also considers himself a theatre archeologist.
What exactly is a theatre archeologist? Well, just as archeologists discover the story of history through artifacts, Tobin builds theatrical stories around the artifacts found in his own life. He also builds stories around scientists and their work as a creative form of scientific communication.
“One aspect of my theatre making is creating theatrical performances that in some way capture, or think creatively about, or communicate scientific research,” Tobin said.
During his Science on Tap presentation, he was able to engage the audience in unique ways to show them how science can tap into our emotions by creating a personal connection with the audience and science. He took audience members on an imaginary walk on the beach—and into waist-deep water in the middle of the Virginia Tech Drillfield, a possible flood scenario.
Tobin shared with the audience three core pillars that he includes in his communicating science work: a personal connection, an emotional connection, and embodied communication.
Tobin believes that having a positive emotional connection to science is important when communicating research.
“We’ve all seen a lot of science communication that relies exclusively on anger or outrage,” he told the audience, “but when you only rely on anger and outrage, it can lead to less connection. When we think about emotional connection with an audience, we must also think of love and happiness.”
His positive relationship with science helps his viewers understand it better and makes them more willing to listen to the issues scientists are working with.
Tobin seeks out scientists and uses their research and results to build performance pieces. Tobin said that he has had some scientists use his pieces to help them communicate their research to the public and to their students.
“I worked with a physical chemist on a performance, and he said that he has taken what I’ve done and uses it now in his teaching,” Tobin said. “What I was able to create helped him explain his own research, which was a really awesome experience to be part of.”
Tobin spent three years at Virginia Tech, teaching acting and directing as well as Introduction to Applied Collaborative Techniques in the School of Performing Arts. He served as a Faculty Fellow with the Center for Communicating Science, facilitating workshops, helping with the pilot summer undergraduate researchers communicating science program, and engaging in arts/science collaborations. He is currently a theatre specialist in the English department at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire.
For more about Tobin’s work, visit his website at danielbirdtobin.com.
The next Science on Tap event will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, February 25, and will feature Bennett Grooms from Virginia Tech’s Department of Wildlife and Conservation. Grooms will talk about the role of human behavior in wildlife conservation in his presentation titled “A New Age of Conservation: Helping Wildlife by Understanding People.” Register here.
By Amelia Gay, Center for Communicating Science student intern