Last Sunday night Dan and I had intentions of seeing a movie but before we left the house we were like “Hey, don’t we live in the greatest city in the world? Maybe we can do better (or at least weirder) than a movie?” The Bell House is a really fun venue in our neighborhood and their website listed something called “The Moth” that sounded kind of like an open mic, so we walked over expecting to be part of a sparse and quiet crowd…but found a line about a hundred people long. A woman with a sense of authority about her saw the confused looks on our faces and asked us if we needed help. “So, this is a thing?” I asked, baffled by the amount of people.
“Oh yeah,” she said and smiled. “It’s a thing.”
“The Moth” has “storyslam” events all over the country and this is basically how it works:
- Wannabe participants prepare a 5 minute story (the use of paper or note cards is discouraged) that relates to a pre-published theme (Sunday’s was “Dirt”).
- The host randomly picks 10 participants to tell their stories.
- Each storyteller is judged on how well they stick to the 5 minute timeline, their story’s relevance to the theme and the arc of their story (it should have a conflict and a resolution).
- The storyteller with the highest score wins and competes in the season’s “Grandslam.”
Everyone had their own take on “Dirt.” There were stories of rodent farms, muddy middle school fistfights, collapsing bathroom ceilings and internet stalking (as in “the” dirt). Some people had their stories timed perfectly and others panicked a little when they got their one minute warning. Most stories were funny, one was a little sad and one was truly disturbing (as in “don’t let that guy follow you to your car”). But all of the storytellers who got up in front of a sold-out venue to share their personal story of “Dirt” had one thing in common: nerve.
The host – the reigning Grandslam champion – opened the night by asking the audience to turn off their cell phones. It’s pretty common at a live venue for someone to get on a microphone at the beginning of the night and rattle off a standard “ladies and gentleman, no flash photograph is allowed and please turn off your cell phones, thank you for cooperation…”
But this guy was like (I’m paraphrasing, and he was much funnier), “Listen, you are on your phones ALL day long. Seriously, do yourself a favor. Just let THIS be the thing you’re going to do for an hour and a half. Email will be there later. Instagram can live without you for a little while. Let’s have this shared experience of listening to a live person tell a story.”
And people listened. In a room of nearly 200 people, I didn’t notice one person check their phone while someone was on stage. People happily listened to stories. They were generous – laughing and clapping even when a story fell a little flat or ended awkwardly. They had sympathetic “awws” for the storytellers who bared their souls. And, when someone was really great, they cheered.
The collective energy was just GOOD – like people walked away with something they’d been looking for.
It reminded me of the importance of authentic human connection and energy. Humans are not filtered and edited into 30 second clips or 140 characters. They’re messy and their stories ramble a bit and their clothes are wrinkled. And, I think when we hear a messy, rambly, wrinkled story there’s some part of our brain that’s like “Hey! I relate to this! The people next to me are laughing, so they relate to it too! I am feeling connected to these humans and that is validating!”
Question: Would you ever do a storyslam?