NEW YORK (AP) — What’s your story?
From mind-blowing circumstances to everyday moments, sharing a story about the human condition provides the stitch work for life’s tapestry.
That’s what people are doing through The Moth , a global storytelling initiative inspired by long-ago evenings on a small-town Georgia porch. The New York-based nonprofit has presented over 20,000 “True Stories Told Live” since it was started by George Dawes Green in his Manhattan living room 20 years ago. He marvels at what it’s become.
Storytellers can participate in open-mic “slams” — five-minute talks in front of an audience without notes — in 22 U.S. cities; Sydney and Melbourne, Australia; London and Dublin, Ireland. A podcast of recordings from live events attracts 44 million downloads a year.
The Moth Mainstage, featuring top-notch storytellers, tours internationally. There’s also a Peabody Award-winning radio show that airs weekly on 450 U.S. public radio stations and a new book, “The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown,” edited by Moth Artistic Director Catherine Burns.
“You go to a cocktail party and get interrupted every 20 seconds by conversation vultures,” says Green. But the world is “filled with great storytellers. They just weren’t given a chance.”
Green, a poet and novelist, has jaw-dropping true stories of his own: hitchhiking north at age 15; squatting in a mausoleum with a deranged derelict; finding his way home again.
But it’s tales about regular people, places and things that leave him “riveted” — a deli scene; a woman’s street mime encounter; a personal revelation.
“When people respond to my odd stories they respond to something they see in themselves,” says Green. The most “glorious stories … evoke a sense of universality.”
In The Moth’s nurturing cocoon, presenters and audiences laugh and cry together over deep, sometimes-dark secrets; embarrassments; hopes and fears; challenges overcome; conflict and resolution.
“We’re being told that the world is divided. I honestly believe stories are a part of the solution,” says Burns, who grew up begging her grandmother at the kitchen table to tell stories “over and over again.”
Like their listeners, Moth storytellers come from all walks of life: a refugee, an astronaut who couldn’t swim, a scientist haunted by a childhood regret — wishing he’d shared his extra hot dog with a boy who couldn’t afford one.
Hip-hop pioneer Darryl “DMC” McDaniels talked about an obsession with Sarah McLachlan’s ballad “Angel” that kept his suicidal thoughts at bay.
The “shared humanity” of The Moth, says storyteller Tara Clancy, creates “a commonality with people who may be very different from you.”
Clancy loves The Moth’s embrace of “underrepresented voices.” Her own stories, told in a distinct New York accent, celebrate “women from places like Queens.”
“It’s not easy to get up onstage,” says Clancy. “It’s terrifying, exhilarating; it runs the emotional spectrum.”
But The Moth has “the most supportive audiences,” says Clancy, who’s thrilled by their “rapt” expressions and empathetic eye contact.
Moth topics are limitless: crime, love, celebration, death, racial identity, a sleepless baby, a bad haircut, an unexpected kindness.
“We imagine we can control everything,” actor-director John Turturro says in a poignant story about his brother’s mental illness. “But the reality is, almost all of us are just stumbling along in the dark, searching.”
The participants “pour their hearts out with gorgeous stories,” says Burns — intimate gifts to the listeners wrapped in a trembling voice, a chuckle, a mesmerizing lilt of a far-off land.
After a show, audience members might swap stories of their own. Friendships bloom; there’s even been an onstage marriage proposal.
And Burns, after her day’s labor of love, might head out to practice her meditative art: twirling objects that are on fire.
But that, dear reader, is a story for another day.