Story Telling at The Moth

Everyone loves hearing a good story. Not very many people, however, can tell a good story. The Moth, with a tagline of “True Stories Told Live” is where you want to be if you are one of those select few.

Changing venues every show, The Moth is a story-telling competition that takes place throughout the country. Names are drawn out of a hat, and whoever is drawn goes up on stage and tells a true story, no longer than five minutes, about a given theme. This night’s theme was Chemistry. It took place at Housing Works Bookstore Café, in the East Village. Ten story-tellers went up on stage and talked. After each story, three panels of judges would confer, and give scores to the stories. At the end, the teller with the highest score became the StorySLAM winner and go on to compete in the GrandSLAM competition with all the year’s winners.

Chemistry is quite a broad topic. In the first story, we heard about a woman with a condition known as face blindness, as she puts it, where she can’t remember the faces of anyone she meets, or even has known for years. Then we heard about a high-school wrestling incident where a faulty gene, as well as causing red hair and freckles, also caused a surprising resistance to morphine. Next we heard about a woman whose brothers grew marijuana in her backyard while she was growing up, only to have it stolen the day before its harvest. We heard stories about trips to Australia, revenge on evil ex-Chemistry teachers, and trips to the doctor as a fat child. The last story, and winner of the evening, came from last year’s GrandSLAM co-champion. He told about how he was a chemistry whiz in school, but when it came to “real-world chemistry,” as he called it, he was no good. He told an account of a week in which he tried to go on one date per day, to no avail. He was turned down every time.

But that’s the beauty of The Moth: take a terrible week, add a little perspective and humor, tell people about it, and voilà. You’ve just won a contest. Founded in 1997 (that’s 15 years ago), The Moth is a non-profit organisation “dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling.” Since its launch, The Moth has presented thousands of stories to crowds and audiences worldwide. Started by poet/novelist George Dawes Green to emulate his Georgia porch where he and his friends would sit for hours sharing stories, there are 4 rules one must follow to participate as a raconteur for the night: Stories must be (95%) true, be no more than 5 minutes, require no notes, and have a conflict and resolution. The namesake of the organisation is a moth that would be attracted to the light on Dawes’ porch, and the idea has been adapted into the symbolism of audiences being drawn in to a good story, like moths to a flame.

Danish author Isak Dinesen is quoted as saying that “to be a person is to have a story to tell.” At The Moth, you really believe it.

By Ethan Weinstein

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