The Moth, True Stories Told Live, is a radio show that airs on NPR. The story tellers are real people with interesting stories to tell. They may also be actors or writers, but they’re just as likely to be ex-cons, teachers, mechanics and dog-walkers. They tell real stories about themselves, live on stage without notes or other crutches. That is not to say that these are extemporaneous performances, far from it. The stories have beginnings and middles and ends. They are polished and practiced and committed to memory. But they don’t sound like theatrical pieces; they sound like stories.
The main stage for The Moth is in New York, but the show travels and recently came to the Somerville Theater. Andrew was online during the teensy, tiny window of opportunity for getting tickets and succeeded. It was an incredible evening. We had a ball. We heard five storytellers that night and only one would I characterize as a performer by trade. Of the others, one was a leader of the Human Genome Project who still teaches biology at MIT, one was an ex-DA turned funeral director, and one was the author of a memoir called Jarhead. The theme of the evening was “Shapeshifters: Stories of Transformation.”
I don’t know how many of The Moth performers are featured more than once. Since the stories are all true it’s hard to imagine anyone having more than one. However, the ex-DA’s story was about being shocked out of his drug habit after an attempted armed robbery in his law office. Since his bio tells us he’s now a funeral director, I’m betting he has another story or two in him.
I want to tell my stories to a big, appreciative audience. Reading my zip code story, 02476, to a bar full of people at a Literary Lounge evening was a major rush. I was high for days. I would love to tell a story at a Moth open mic night. I have lots of stories. I write a piece for you every week, don’t I? And I mine my own life to come up with them! It should be easy, right? Maybe not. On The Moth’s website is a page called Storytelling Tips. One of them is:
No essays: Your eloquent musings are beautiful and look pretty on the page but unless you can make them gripping and set up stakes, they won’t work on stage.
Damn. But then I read more and had a small epiphany – it was all good advice for writers as well as storytellers. Here are a few of their other tips: have some stakes, start in the action, steer clear of meandering endings, no standup routines, no rants. Lest you think novelists don’t employ stand up routines and rants, let me assure you they try to. I removed a small rant from my work-in-progress just the other day.
And talk about rants, have I ever told you about the time my car broke down on the highway during a rainstorm? Well it was late and… You know what? I think I’ll keep that off my blog. It might make a good story for The Moth.