I {Moth} Stories

When I needed a boost to complete that one final task of the day, I used to listen to podcasts while fixing dinner. Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me was one favorite. The Moth was another. Turns out that The Moth StorySLAM is in the San Francisco Bay Area this summer, and other venues around the U.S.. With my friend and her husband, we got tickets to the July 8 show at Freight and Salvage (a.k.a. The Freight) in Berkeley.

Moth. Moth. What is Moth? A topic is posted or revealed on the website beforehand. People prepare five-minute stories (non-fiction only! it must be true! it must be your story, not someone else's! "True Stories Told Live" is the subtitle) and when they get to the venue, they put their name in a hat, or bag, as the case may be, and hope to be one of the ten storytellers called onstage to speak.

Tickets are available for purchase a week before, and I believe they always sell out: at our evening, the soft seats were completely full. As we walked in we were handed a slip of paper that said: "Tell us about a time you found equilibrium…" Not knowing what these were, we squirreled them away. In fact, you could just write a sentence and give it to the producers and it would be read aloud at some point in the evening. Writer's block kicked me so I couldn't even think of one single sentence.

Doors open an hour early. Buy drinks! Buy food! Use the restrooms! Buy a Moth t-shirt (they are really cute!). The crowd was composed of a full range of adult ages, and a little hipper than I'd seen at plays or folk music concerts. We were approached by Anna, one of the producers. She was hunting. Would we like to be judges? Having really no clue how this went, my friend spoke for us both: we would like to just listen to the stories today. Those who accepted, groups of three or more friends, chose a team name. That evening we had: The Flying Wallenda Sisters; We Can't Agree; and a third I've forgotten (that wasn't the name); no, it was Sweet and Sour.

The host was comedian Corey Rosen, who created a warm and comfortable atmosphere for what must have been some very nervous guests since no one knew who would be first. "Give them each a really big welcome!" We clapped and cheered. He told a few anecdotes and jokes himself, and it was fun to watch his face as he watched the storytellers. Name chosen. Five minutes. Little bell rings. One more minute. Little gong. That's it.

The judges had number cards, and gave the first storyteller some versions of 8, which set the bar for the rest. How would you choose? Some criteria: original or fresh subject; drama or entertainment; performance/execution; flow; emotional/human connection. Judges were told only to mark down points if the teller went over the time limit.

Stories about balance that we heard:
  • a young American woman dabbles in circus in Brazil and realizes her privilege
  • a gregarious older woman's tai chi practice and what she learns at a silent retreat
  • a young woman talks about helping auction off favorite ponies at age 13
  • a gay man's coming out to himself and others after 27 years of marriage and his near suicide
  • a then-18-year-old birth mother's hope for an open adoption that eventually turns sour
  • a young man comes to America from Turkey as an exchange student and discovers cow tipping and racism
  • a man learns from his contractor father about life and stepladders
  • a man becomes a substitute teacher because he thinks it will be easier than his old job
  • a man witnesses a traffic accident around a notoriously dangerous curve
  • a broke "money man" helps coach a basketball team in a poor neighborhood and believes if you act like the person you want to be, you'll become that person. He mysteriously ends up with money, after all.
Each had a story in which something was desired and the process to getting it (or not) didn't work out as planned. Some contained amusing little bits within, others were thoughtful or heart wrenching. The audience was extremely friendly. We felt for all of them. The gay man was the winner. (I was rooting for the birth mother or the Turkish man, but I gave up my chance to vote!) He'll go on to compete with other winners from the "Balance" themed evenings.

After the ten were through, Corey Rosen welcomed to the stage the three people whose names were not drawn. Each got to give a summary or first line. And then he said, "When you see them in the lobby after the show, you can ask them to tell you their  story."

The Moth StorySLAM continues with various topics at July's venues in Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Houston, Burlington, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, Dublin, Cambridge, Portland, Ann Arbor, Denver, Queens, Louisville, Miami, San Francisco, and St. Paul. More in August. If you want to tell a story at the StorySLAM, you might want to check out this page.