The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
As an irregular attendee of the wildly popular Moth StorySlam events, which take place the first Thursday of every month at Cliff Bell’s, it seemed to logically follow that the Moth Mainstage Event at the Fillmore on Tuesday, November 13th, would be like Moth, but more so.
I can’t speak for the crowd of 1,300 eager listeners who packed into the Fillmore that evening, but I found that Moth on the Mainstage was like Moth, but perhaps a little less. Less stories, for one thing — where the monthly shows include 10 stories drawn at random from audience members who throw in their names at the start of the evening, the Mainstage features only five storytellers, with somewhat longer and more “directed” stories. Less intimate, to be sure — and a good story carries with it an air of disclosure that creates a kind of intimacy that actually translates well to the Moth’s radio show, but is hard to manifest in a concert hall with 1,000-plus people. At very least, a comparison between the two events provided this timid Moth hopeful a little more insight into what makes for an outstanding Moth performance.
The evening’s opener, Dan Kennedy (voice of the Moth radio show) definitely hit all the marks in his recount of the days he spent chronicling a hunt for a record-breaking python (22+ feet) that included a waist-high guano swamp and cockroaches plotting flight trajectories into his face. More than anyone else on the bill, Kennedy had a clear understanding of the effectiveness of presenting a story of limited scope.
In the 10 minutes allotted (and enforced by the evening’s musical timekeeper, the tragically underutilized DSO cellist Una O’Riordan), you cannot hope to convey a life story, particularly one as long and fascinating as that of the evening’s second story-teller, 97-year-old Grace Lee Boggs (b. 1915). That didn’t stop Mrs. Boggs from giving it a go, and even an abbreviated version of her life story conveyed both a message of hope and exhortation for great change in the span of a lifetime.
The other presenters, Sherman ‘O.T.’ Powell, Eleanor Brimmer, and Tamara Warren all gave their own accounts, alternately heavy and hilarious, on the evening’s theme, “Walk the Line,” and ceremonies were moved along by the always energetic emcee Ophira Eisenbergh.
Far be it for me say that the Moth fails to shine in the limelight, but I think there is something to be said for its roots in the porch light.