There are a lot of different mediums today for sharing stories. You can write it down, make a movie, create a song, or even through still art. However, there’s one craft of storytelling that seems to have been forgotten: the actual act of telling a story to a group of people.
Enter The Moth, a non-profit organization dedicated to the art of storytelling. Formed in 1997, The Moth holds events in cities across the United States where people come together to tell stories. The catch? The storyteller tells it to a live audience, and no one is allowed to use notes. If you lose your place and forget what happens next, you might just be out of luck. A number of famous writers have performed at The Moth, including comedian Mike Birbiglia, author Malcolm Gladwell, and playwright Sam Shepard.
The Moth holds events once a week in New York (only for an extremely modest $7!), and the most popular events are the StorySlams. Modeled off of a poetry slam, except without the poetry, StorySlams give complete strangers access to about a 200-person audience to tell their stories, whatever it may be. Each week a theme is chosen, and storytellers must tell a story related to that theme.
I went to my first performance of The Moth last week, at the Housing Works Bookstore Café. The large audience crowded themselves into the decently-sized room, and excited participants dropped their names in a bag, eager to get picked. Each storyteller gets five minutes, with only a minute leeway to go over. They are scored by a few judges, though the real judge is the audience. The storytellers only find out they go on a minute or two before they must jump on the stage, so eager storytellers must prepare before they even step in line. Last week’s theme? Fathers, in honor of the recent holiday.
Now let’s get one thing straight. The Moth is a storytelling venue, not therapy. My friend I went with asked me a legitimate question: Is this going to be people going up telling stories of abuse? The answer was no—not a single story even touched on that idea, though sex came up in a few of the stories, and only in the hilarious manner.
The standout story, which won the night as well, judges, was a hilarious concoction of bad parenting with a good Jewish twist. The story, told by the daughter, involved her newly divorced father taking her down to Atlantic City in the 1970s for the first night of Passover. The father, without a second parent to second guess his decisions decides to have the two stay in a sleazy motel, and the daughter got to listen to an orgy complete with prostitutes the entire night. “Please, it’s the first night of Passover!” the storyteller screamed, getting one of the biggest laughs of the night.
Not all stories are necessarily funny though. A wonderful story was told by a young man, his first time ever performing, who talked about how his father had always considered him a disappointment and their ailing relationship. However, when their grandmother died in India, and the father waited for a layover in Newark, the son had a redeeming moment that seemed to touch both their lives.
However, the best part of The Moth StorySlam was that not a single story was even close to being bad. Stories ranged from a geologist attempting to connect with his son, but only through drawing smiley faces in Guinness beer, a son seeing his father’s coronet played once and only once, a father’s over supportiveness of his son’s sexuality, and a competition of Trivial Pursuit that ended with the question “Wait…Is a mountain goat a mammal?” (It is)
Needless to say, good times were held by all that came to the Moth, and those who weren’t picked got to tell the first sentence of their story (the standout: “I’m a father and when people ask me how many kids I have…I’m not exactly sure what to say). What makes The Moth a fresh and original experience though is that it returns art to its roots, the oral tradition of story, and praises those who know how to spin a good narrative, and keep an audience interested and take something away. After all, everyone loves a good story.
Peter Labuza, CC’11