Moth Storytelling Events Inspire Students

10/01/10 7:34AM Angela Evancie
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(Host) People around the country have rediscovered the pleasure of telling and listening to personal stories.

The public radio show "The Moth" has been the inspiration for evenings of storytelling at colleges and nightclubs across the country.

In Vermont, there have been several events.

Middlebury College graduate Angela Evancie, who is spending a year on a post-graduate public radio fellowship, listened in on one of them, and has this report.

(Evancie) It's a Thursday night at Middlebury College, and students are packing into a dim performance space in the basement of a dorm.  But there's no concert or poetry slam tonight.  Just stories - told by Middlebury students, professors, and residents.

(Will Bellaimey) "Ok.  So what do you think about this lineup?  Max, Quinn, Sam, Sean."

(Evancie) Middlebury students Will Bellaimey and Bianca Giaever work out last-minute details. 

(Bianca Giaever) "That sounds great, that sounds great.  It's perfect."

(Evancie) Giaever and Bellaimey are both fans of the public radio show "The Moth," a program that invites people to tell their stories before a live audience.

(Bellaimey) "We both got in to the podcast and we thought this would be a great thing to do at Middlebury."

(Evancie) The concept has taken off and inspired story-telling initiatives around the country. Middlebury uses the same rules as "The Moth:"

(Giaever at the mic) "Rule number one is all stories must be true.  And rule number two is, no notes."

(Evancie) And in Middlebury, like at The Moth, there's a new theme each week.  Tonight, it's "Summer."

(Michaela Liberman) "Something happens to me, though, in summer, and I don't know why, but I tend to go a little overboard." [laughter]

(Evancie) In a few hours, we travel from a prison in Maine to a Miami gay bar to the border between Syria and Turkey.  Each story has some classic twist.  There's a brush with death:

(Quinn Mecham) "And they pointed up in the mountains and I saw two Turkish soldiers up pretty high in the mountain right above me with their weapons pointed on me." [oohs and aahs].

(Evancie) Large amounts of money:

(Max Kanter) "Is that a hundred dollar bill?  And like, ten other hundred dollar bills?" [laughter]

(Evancie) Some good old slapstick humor:

(Ken Grinde) "I fall the arc length of whatever I am to there - you know, a long way." [laughter] 

(Evancie) And mistaken identity:

(Brad Becker-Parton) "And it's at this moment that I realize that my roommate was the Wolfman." [laughter]

(Evancie) Middlebury organizer Bianca Giaever says there's an art to telling a good story.

(Giaever) "I mean it's not an essay.  It's not stand-up comedy.  It's not your life story.  It's a very specific story with a beginning and a middle and an end."

(Evancie) It's an ancient skill, and the cornerstone of an oral tradition that has all but crumbled.  But "The Moth" seems to be leading a revival of the ritual of telling a good story. And Vermonters are signing up.  In addition to the event at Middlebury, there's also "Extemporaneous Storytelling" in Montpelier and "Anecdote" in Burlington.

(Brooke Dooley) "It's unrehearsed, and it's not necessarily told by performers."

(Evancie) Brooke Dooley started "Anecdote" at Burlington's ½ Lounge earlier this year. 

(Dooley) "It's a really small room, kind of darkly lit and um, it's intimate."

(Evancie) Dooley never quite knows what to expect when someone takes the stage, but she values the process of self-discovery that takes place.

(Dooley) "There's something really organic and natural and wonderful that happens when somebody's uncomfortable doing something but they do it anyway.  You communicate to other people but it helps you communicate to yourself too and self-inform."

(Evancie) As for the resurgence in communal storytelling, Dooley sees it as an escape from the digital age.

(Dooley) "I can have immediate contact with my, you know, four hundred Facebook friends."

(Evancie) But, Dooley says, we still need to feel that human contact. And that's what these stories accomplish.

(Michaela Liberman) "...Because what 9th grade girl tackles a 35-year-old man?" [laughter]

For VPR News, I'm Angela Evancie.

(Host outro) One of these nights of storytelling will be held in Montpelier Saturday night. "Celebration of The Story" is at 7:30 at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Next Middlebury storytelling event: October 8th at The Gamut Room, Middlebury.  10:00 p.m.  Theme is "School."

Podcasts of shows at www.themothmiddlebury.mypodcast.com

Next Anecdote: October 18th at ½ Lounge, Burlington.  7:30 p.m.  Theme is "Tales from Childhood."

www.anecdotestorytelling.com 

Next Extemporaneous Storytelling: November 1st at The Black Door 3rd Floor Lounge, Montpelier.  8:00 p.m. 

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