It is always reassuring to learn others have done similarly foolish and even dangerous things without much forethought and survived. Perhaps that is why The Moth Story Slamm, held monthly at Cafe Istanbul and produced by WWNO-FM, has attracted such an enthusiastic and loyal following.
Based on the thunderous applause, more than a couple of people in the audience recently, and possibly the whole room, could identify with youthful indiscretions.
The sometimes-meandering and incredible stories involved road trips, kidnapping, breaking and entering, false pregnancies or car crashes, among other mishaps.
WWNO chose and announced a theme in advance so would-be participants could prepare to deliver a five-minute monologue based on an event when they really needed an escape route.
The stories tended to be highly personal and terribly true, providing a moment of stark self-revelation.
Joseph Daniel talked about leaving a friend for dead in a snowdrift out of spite; Leslie Roth took off on a spontaneous trip to Africa with a cheating boyfriend, admittedly the “worst boyfriend of all times,” whom she nevertheless decided to help steal a boat in London, dragging it in a wheelbarrow through Kensington Gardens before being stopped by coppers.
“That was a story about Africa that said nothing about Africa,” commented Eve Troeh, the station’s amiable news director and show host.
Interestingly, the winning story involved a less exotic visit to an urgent care center, demonstrating that one must be ready at almost any time for quick escape.
The Moth Radio Hour is produced in New York City, but many National Public Radio affiliates have spun off their own storytelling contests.
When WWNO launched its version in October, two producers and a host came from New York to help establish the format.
“The goal is to make it look informal and to be in line with the national show,” said Mallory Falk, producer.
Attendees’ names are randomly drawn by the host and performances judged by three audience-member teams. Later this year, winners from each monthly show will face off and the winner will go to a national competition. There are no prizes and little notoriety. So why do it?
“People see the Moth as an opportunity and now have a platform,” Falk said.
A good story should have a beginning, middle and end with the storyteller experiencing some type of transformation, said Falk who also teaches storytelling to schoolchildren. Some of the stories rambled and abruptly wound up when time ran out.
Several contestants exceeded the five-minute limit, heralded with a tune on an old-fashioned recorder. Raconteurs climbed onstage carrying beers, so alcohol could have had some effect on their losing track of time.
Thus far, a mix of complete amateurs and more experienced speakers have entered the story slam, but the process provides “equal opportunity” with the possibility anybody’s name can be pulled from the bucket.
The night’s winning storyteller is criminal defense attorney Meghan Shapiro. Although she has significant experience in public speaking, she’d never told a personal story before a crowd.
“I outlined it to make sure it had a good flow and story arc,” said Shapiro. “A good ending is just as important in court.”
Ken Conner Jr. recalled his adventure as a private investigator hired by a couple to retrieve their son who had joined a cult in San Francisco. But when Conner attempted to grab the boy on the street, Good Samaritans intervened, turning his rescue mission into a brawl.
Troeh summed up the moral to his story: “You do not want to run into a Good Samaritan if you’re going to kidnap someone.”
The Moth Story Slam returns Tuesday, May 13, at Cafe Istanbul. The theme is “Karma.” Go to http://themoth.org/events for more information.