Friday, 26 April 2013 10:38

Keeping the Flame: The Moth Brings Storytelling Into the 21st Century

Written by  Kyle Austin
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The Moth Mainstage
Kalamazoo State Theatre
May 22, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets start at $30, (269) 345-6500 

Allow me to blow the collective mind of Generation Y with a history lesson. Shocking as it may seem, humans did in fact once communicate without the aid of digital technology and social media. Mocked for their lack of speed and efficiency, relics like the letter, the telegram and the fax have been effectively phased out, but for acclaimed non-profit organization The Moth, there is one antiquated form of communication that deserves preservation: the ancient art of storytelling.

Founded in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, The Moth began as a series of small gatherings in New York City where Green and others would meet up to swap true stories. The organization has grown tremendously over time, hosting main-stage events and open mic-style story slams in a number of major cities, including Ann Arbor and Detroit. A strong media presence features regular podcasts, as well as The Moth Radio Hour, a Peabody-winning program that is broadcast on more than 200 radio stations nationwide.

"Our storytelling is very much the art of the raconteur," said Maggie Cino, The Moth's senior producer. "What we are fundamentally interested in is the person and the passion behind the story."

Through a story hotline (1-877-799-6684), story slam performances and word-of-mouth recommendations, The Moth's producers entertain every story pitch they receive. Chosen storytellers range from famous names in the arts, sciences and pop culture to everyday men and women. Each mainstage event revolves around a chosen theme (on May 22 it will be "Between Worlds"), and gives five storytellers 10 minutes each to captivate the audience with a true, personal and compelling tale.

"The time limit forces [the storyteller] to sit down and really think about exactly what it is they're trying to communicate," Cino said. "What information does the audience need to understand how important this experience was to you?"

Mainstage events allow time prior to the performance for the audience to have a few drinks, mingle and prepare themselves for a truly immersive experience. Sold-out performances everywhere, including two in Michigan last year, are proof of the communicative power of storytelling.

"Hopefully, people will encounter the opportunity to be a part of a community, to sit back and think about what it really means to connect," Cino said.

Spend an hour on The Moth's website and you'll find recordings of live stories about anything and everything, such as a wedding toast gone horribly awry, a stabbing at the hands of Latin Kings gang members or the raw experiences of an embedded wartime journalist. But it's not the surface details that resonate with the audience most, but rather the pain, joy, regret, conflict, death, discovery and rebirth that arise when the everyday and the extraordinary collide.

"[The stories] are all fundamentally about things that have been going on since people were able to talk to each other," Cino said. "Putting a frame around that in this chaotic and information-rich culture is something that people have really been responding to."


Grand Rapids Writer's Exchange
Barnes and Noble – Woodland Mall
Thursdays, 7 p.m., (616) 940-0820

If you're a budding writer who's been slaving away at the computer in solitude, perhaps it's time to get out of the house and into a writer's group. The Grand Rapids Writer's Exchange provides a community of support and self-improvement for writers of all skill levels, and new members are free to join in at any time.

Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him
Grand Rapids Public Library
May 1, 7 p.m., (616) 988-5400

Hear Captain Luis Carlos Montalván, a 17-year veteran of the U.S. Army, discuss his book, Until Tuesday, at this free event. The book, which chronicles both Montalván's service and his post-service rehabilitation, explores the trauma and experiences of veterans and people with disabilities, as well as the healing power of animal/human relationships. Montalván's service dog, Tuesday, will be on-hand as well.

Singing Man: Seven Sacred Directions
Black River Books
330 Kalamazoo St., South Haven
May 25, 1 p.m., (269) 637-7374

Singing Man, Michael Toahty, is a man of mixed Native American descent. His father was half-Pawnee and half-Kiowa, while his mother was full-blooded Southern Arapaho. Living in the 21st century with ties to ancient Native American culture has inspired Toahty to share his unique blend of Native American teachings and modern struggles through his writing. At this free event, he will share some of the spirit contained in his book, Seven Sacred Directions: A Native American Message of Transformation.

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