A storytelling project with humble beginnings as a local get-together is changing the art and craft of storytelling, and thereby fixing up our neglected souls.
This week we bring you something a little special, a lot inspiring, often-hilarious and always thought-provoking. A hot, steaming bowl of chicken soup for the soul, if you will – for those lonely nights and existential crises. When Trump has you face-palming and rent-prices got you eye-rolling, when there’s no escaping the trenches of political grief and you’ve lost almost every shred of faith in humanity, there’s no better distraction than a good old-fashioned human-interest story.
Storytelling is an art form as old as language itself, a very primal and personal form of communication that demands a response from the audience. So believes George Dawes Green – poet, novelist and founder of the not-for-profit storytelling platform and booming podcast, The Moth. Green’s brainchild was inspired by his own nostalgic memories of shared storytelling. Growing up in Georgia, Green and his friends would drink bourbon and tell stories on a porch, as moths flew in through the broken screen and gathered around the porch light – hence the project title. As a novelist residing in Manhatten, years later, it was an experience that Green yearned for, one he felt had been lost to narrowing attention spans and the dawn of digital entertainment.
And so, one evening twenty years ago now, Green invited 100 friends over to his apartment and asked a handful of them to tell a story. From that night, an underground phenomenon spouted that would soon explode to include main-stage events held in cities worldwide. The concept was simple: raconteurs – some famous, most not – would get on stage and narrate their real-like experiences in front of standing-only crowds. No notes, just the storyteller and a mic. The Moth now hosts over 600 live shows a year and runs a radio hour that airs on 450 US radio stations and a podcast that is downloaded more than 27 million times a year.
Of course, it’s hardly surprising that such a project has taken off so keenly. Contemporary entertainment is all-too saturated with inauthentic social media goo, factory-assembled pop hits and reality shows that reside in anything but reality. It’s no wonder that there’s an unmet appetite for The Moth’s authentic and intimate format: true stories ‘told live and without notes.’ Delivering a personal experience that is authentic – that oh-so slippery word – is key to The Moth, which values verifiable experience. The desire to return to meaningful interaction, one person at a time, to connect with others through a shared experience, is at the heart of the podcast renaissance. The intimacy that has been lost to the digital world is transposed across The Moth’s podcast, directly into listener’s ears. The result is powerful listening that will have you both laughing and crying amidst strangers on your commute.
Giving ordinary people a platform to tell their extraordinary stories is part of what makes The Moth so special. The narrator’s willingness to expose themselves, to reveal emotion and vulnerability is directly linked to audience appreciation. Sharing personal happiness, inspiration and hope has an often-surprising effect. Because storytelling is such a personal art form, it has the ability not only to move the listener, but every so often, to change a life.
“When people hear a story, it makes you reflect on something in your own life and maybe gives you the courage to make the change you need to make. It’s thrilling,”
shares The Moth’s Artistic Director Catherine Burns. Her personal favourite is the story of zoologist Alan Rabinowitz, who overcame a debilitating childhood stutter and went on to live his boyhood dream of rescuing endangered animals.
“Someone heard his story, quit her advertising job and moved to Africa to try and save baby gorillas. She’s been doing that for the last 10 years.”
The Moth has also attracted some celebrity guests over the years. Comedian Anthony Griffith shared his powerful story of losing his young daughter to cancer while he was simultaneously launching his stand-up career on television, actor/comedian Steve Burns opened up about his ‘fame-ish’, and John Turturro discussed his brother’s mental illness during a live show.
This is the 20th year that The Moth has provided a stage for storytellers, hosting a mix of high school students, actors, civil rights leaders, authors, refugees, prison inmates, Nobel Laureates and nobodys. In so doing it has delivered tens of thousands of stories since its inception. To celebrate the fact, the project has released a fabulous new book The Moth Presents: All These Wonders, a collection of 45 stories from the last two decades.
My personal favourite? The story of Suzi Ronson – a hairdresser from a London suburb, who cut the young David Bowie’s hair, joined his tour and went on to become a music producer. One hell of a story, not just for the grandkids.
Heard a life-changing Moth story? Join the conversation below.