the living art of storytelling in Massachusetts

...writing as I ride out of "....NY,NY the city that never shuts up..."- ani diFranco

Imagine 400 people in Boston lining up to hear stories - people of all ages but predominantly people 30 and under. Imagine nearly 300 souls crushed into a dark club paying $7 bucks to get in and buying 2 mandatory drinks just so they could hear 10 people tell stories (mostly) connected the evening's theme of " coincidence". Well, dream on. Meanwhile, in NY,NY this scene is happening once a month.

Word from the listserv was we needed to be very early to get in, much less to have seats. ( Shout out to Claire B and others). We were lucky to have three people to manage the line and dinner situation. Barbara A. stood in line at 6PM while we ordered out at nearby Suzy's, and got some great Chinese food that did not cost a mortgage payment. The line stretched round the block by 6:30PM and if I were an entrepreneur I would host an alternate story event for the overflow crowd at anyone of the gagillion clubs in that part of the Village. But I digress.

I never wait for anything - lines are an anathema to me, but I had traveled 250 miles to see the Moth in action and took one for the team. Once inside we got seats right up front near the sound engineer. The Moth website has been posting audio recordings of these storyslam stories for years.

Sara Barron was the delightful emcee/host for the storySLAM at the Moth. She was extremely funny in a very Tourettes-esque kinda way . She employs a volatile mix of self deprecating humor and vitriol while sharing TMI, outing ex-boyfriends, naming names, giving out all save cell phone #s for each egregious offender to woman kind via her own person - freakin' hilarious. Libelous even. Sara explained the rules, the voting and the time keeping signals all while hopping about on one leg - seems she broke the other in a bicycling accident and was still in a cast. Never far below her comic persona was her genuine care for the performers and she kept the scene flowing and the energy up for each teller. As for the rules, it turns out, 5 minutes stories are actually 6 and people mainly kept to the limits. The scores are posted on a flip chart on stage after they are delivered Olympic Games style, with numbers, no comments. Last night the founder/originator of The Moth was in attendance and sat in on one of the judging teams.

"The Moth believes that everyone has a story. The Moth created StorySLAM to give those stories a forum.Following the wild success of our Mainstage series, The Moth sought to accommodate all the people who asked, “When can I tell my story?” and to encourage those people who doubted they had a story worth telling. The Moth StorySLAM provides a stage and a microphone, a theme to inspire and shape the evening, a lively and supportive audience, and a host to guide the festivities. Stories are limited to five minutes, and ten stories are heard.
The stories are scored by three teams of audience-member judges, and a winner is announced at every SLAM. The SLAM winners later face off in a Moth GrandSLAM." More from their website What is The Moth?The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization, was founded in New York in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, who wanted to recreate in New York the feeling of sultry summer evenings on his native St. Simon's Island, Georgia, where he and a small circle of friends would gather to spin spellbinding tales on his friend Wanda's porch...the first "Moth" evening took place in his NYC living room. Word of these captivating story nights quickly spread, and The Moth moved to bigger venues in New York. Today, The Moth conducts eight ongoing programs and has brought more than 3,000 live stories to over 100,000 audience members."

Tellers put their names in a bag and ten are selected, one at a time. The first set of five flew by and we had a "10" minute intermission. The stories and tellers ranged from good, to very good to absolutely amazing. After all the stories were told and a winner announced and celebrated, those who had not been in the 10 chosen, (yours truly and Robin Bady among them) were invited up to share our opening sentences for the untold stories. What a cool tradition!

The audience was warm and engaged. The judging was not at all the distraction I had imagined it would be. In fact the judging gave tellers time to prepare and added something to the concentration and the quality of the evening. Stories are judged on how they relate to the theme of the slam, how they are presented and timeliness and and having an arc; a beginning , middle and end. Now, we all know that no one wants to bomb. No one wants to suck. But you need to think twice and practice before telling and you will think before putting your name into the Moth bag to be picked. And this is a good thing. The judging seems to promote a healthy respect for the time and attention of the audience. I really believe that competition is not an inevitable part of "human nature" and does not de facto motivate us to do our best, so I am surprised at myself for saying any competition in the arts is good. Check out my anti- competition bible No Contest for more in this vein. I think in terms of overall quality, the fear factor + the time limits at MOTH add a welcome self reflection and crafting of story before telling - something I believe we desperately need in our New England open mic scene.

I went to the MOTH to study. I am reflecting and scheming and dreaming to create a place for storytelling - yes, they use that good old fashioned term for it, in Boston. We have the stories. We have the clubs. What else do we need? Oh yeah, 300 people lining up so they will not miss the monthly feast of story - told live.

Big hugs to my NY, NY friends who schlepped, housed and guided me - Robin Bady and Barbara AliprantisBoth these women are shakers and movers, bringing story to the city that never shuts up.

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Grand Prize for South Shore Grand Slam Story Slam generously donated by Nicolette Heavey and Stories In The Streets (A Maine Get Away)

Stories in the Streets in an outreach literacy program that focuses on families in at-risk areas and fosters community engagement in storytelling by: 1) Creating opportunities for public storytelling wherever families gather — a farmer’s market, laundromat, or food line; and, 2) Offering storytelling workshops that raise family engagement in literacy, cultural awareness and community understanding.  The program is currently active in Lawrence, Brockton and Randolph.


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