The Moth Returns to Santa Barbara
Celebrated Storytelling Troupe at the Lobero
Thursday, March 31, 2016
There is no denying the power of story. It is perhaps the most potent type of living alchemy we have. Whether you are digging into a newspaper piece, a good book, a movie, a magazine, or a podcast or listening to a relative’s yarn or a stranger reminisce from the barstool next to you, a well-timed and well-delivered story has the potential to change everything from your mood to your understanding of an issue to the basic trajectory of your life itself. Stories are the connective tissue of community, a constantly renewing bridge between generations, and they serve as the fundamental ingredients of each and every life. Indeed, a life without stories is no life at all.
And so, it should come as little surprise that The Moth, a modest and informal gathering of friends in the name of storytelling, has become a critically acclaimed international sensation in these teenage years of the 21st century. And yet The Moth’s success does surprise, especially since pocket-sized computers dominate our daily narratives and pixel-powered social media addictions control us more than most care to admit. How could something so simple and traditional become so popular in this era of high-octane, technology-driven stories?
Since starting in 1997, The Moth — a not-for-profit storytelling collective from New York City that has become a beloved darling of public radio, podcasts, and live stages the world over — has broadcast more than 10,000 real-life stories from the lips of the people who actually lived them, and this Wednesday, April 6, they are coming to Santa Barbara. “Each show is completely unique. We craft them specifically for the place and time that they happen,” said Maggie Cino, director of The Moth Mainstage and visionary behind this week’s performance. “So this one is just for Santa Barbara. It won’t be like anything anyone has seen before.”
What Is the Moth?
As a child on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia, novelist and poet George Dawes Green (The Juror, The Caveman’s Valentine) would get together with friends and family on hot Southern summer nights and try to outdo each other with stories, a practice that many with rural upbringings can surely relate to. They hung out on a screened-in porch and eventually began to call themselves The Moths, a nod to the poetic similarities between the effect a good story has to draw people in and the siren song a flickering light on their fateful porch sang for the moths finding their way in through a hole in the screen. Audiences, to follow the metaphor, are drawn to a good story the way a moth is to a flame.
Living in New York City years later, Green was looking to re-create those summer evenings of his childhood. He began by inviting like-minded folks to his living room in Manhattan to take turns swapping personal stories. The formula was simple and wildly popular; just stand up and tell a true tale from your life that had major meaning to you. Soon enough, The Moth, as the gatherings came to be known in tribute to Green’s youth, began popping up in cafés, clubs, and coffee houses. And its reach has only kept growing. There has been a New York Times best-selling book, a Peabody Award, hundreds of sold-out stage shows both nationally and internationally, regular open-mike nights in dozens of cities, hour-long weekly programing on 400 plus radio stations, and 30 million podcast downloads a year. “All of it is first-person true stories told without notes from the stage,” explained Cino, who has been part of The Moth team for the past decade. “These aren’t memorized monologues from professionals. Anybody could and probably should be on The Moth’s stage.”
denise ofelia mangen
In short, programmers curate a “mainstage” show much like a gallery owner might curate a group art show. A theme is picked by an in-house creative committee, something purposely broad yet provocative and attention grabbing. Topics such as “The Ties That Bind,” “Journeys,” “The Dark Side,” and “Un-Silenced” are but a few examples of recent themes. Once a motif is identified, a show is developed around it; five storytellers are handpicked to flesh out the performance, each delivering a 10- to 12-minute intimate telling of a true tale from their lives that dovetails with the theme in some insightful and entertaining — and often unexpected — way. “We really try to get a cross-section of humanity onstage,” said Cino. Some music is added to each piece, a host is enlisted to preside over the live show and serve as a link between the night’s assorted tales, and voilà, The Moth is born anew. “None of it is art directed or scripted. It just is what it is: real people speaking passionately and truly about something that happened to them and changed them forever,” summed up Cino.