The Moth Mainstage revels in telling the whole story
Perhaps it’s no surprise that just as people are losing their ability to have face-to-face conversations, live storytelling events—like the Moth Mainstage, part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival—have exploded in popularity.
“With the technology we have now, there’s so much back and forth,” said Maggie Cino, director of the Moth show coming to Ann Arbor. “We can connect with anybody at any time through the Internet. But there’s just something very simple and delightful and exhilarating about being able to just listen to someone share something that happened to them that’s important.
“ The very egalitarianness of story slams—it could be you, it could be your neighbor, it could be your friend getting up there and telling what happened to them, and that could unlock something in you. A question you didn’t even know you had might be answered. And that ability to be in a room and learn and be entertained keeps people coming back.”Satori Shakoor, a Detroit native comedian, writer and actress who hosts Ann Arbor’s monthly Moth story slam at Circus, will host this A2SF event, too. She got involved with the Moth by participating in story slams at Cliff Bell’s in Detroit.
“The bottom of my file cabinet was overloaded with stories that I never believed I'd ever tell,” said Shakoor. “I wrote them because I had to. Meeting The Moth was like meeting my storytelling soul mate. When The Moth asks me to do something, I say yes whenever possible. We have the same love and mission to unearth, develop and promote the art and craft of storytelling.”
The Moth founder George Dawes Green initially hoped to re-create the feel of evenings spent on a friend’s screened-in porch in Georgia, swapping stories. Moths snuck in through a hole in the screen, so the group called itself the Moths. And while the first New York Moth event was held in the founder’s living room in the mid-90s, similar events soon became popular in New York’s cafes and clubs.
Moth storytellers tell their stories live, without notes, in front of an audience. Cino explained that while the Moth Mainstage may put on 14 or 15 shows a year in different parts of the country, each show is a special, curated event, with its own distinct lineup of storytellers and stories. (A small exception to this is the upcoming Wednesday-Thursday block in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, which will offer the same show.)
The Moth Mainstage program scheduled for Ann Arbor, “Under the Influence: Stories that Shape and Shake Us,” will feature storytellers Peter Aguero, Erin Barker, Tom Bodett, Ellie Lee and Brian Finkelstein.
“The process is, we work with about 3 storytellers who’ve had a chance to work on their stories before, whether that be on a New York stage or elsewhere in country, and they want the chance to tell the story to a different crowd. And we also work in at least one new story for each traveling show.”
Cino noted that in putting together a Moth show, she aims for variety while also striking a balance between serious and funny tales. Recently, she’s been working to help Bodett, a Michigan native, shape his Moth story.
And while standing on a stage is a different experience from sitting at a table to tell a story, Cino thinks the intimacy of storytelling itself collapses the distinction.
“On the one hand, they’re two thing different things, but they’re more similar than you might think,” said Cino. “There’s something about - when we tell stories, or we’re focused on a story, whether we’re sitting around a table or in the Michigan theater, it’s just a matter looking at the people around you, and speaking from heart, and reacting when they react, making sure they’re with you. As long as the storyteller does those things - because it’s not a monologue, it’s a dialogue. One thing about great storytellers is that they’re great listeners. When they’re present with the audience, and they’re opening up to them, a room of 1700 turns into a dinner party.”