From pagan fundraisers to emergency room tables and jury rooms, popular storytelling podcast The Moth turns everyday experiences into unforgettable storytelling.
Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting literary arts, presented the traveling podcast downtown at the Byham Theater Wednesday night. More than 900 people came to see the mainstage event, which hosts winners of The Moth’s two previous storytelling competitions. The six speakers spun yarns around the chosen theme of being “tangled up.”
The Moth, which records in front of a live audience, is broadcast weekly on the public radio digital distributor Public Radio Exchange — it receives more than 27 million downloads every year.
The event opened with Detroit educator Dame Wilburn, who told a comical but inspiring story about meeting her wife at a pagan fundraiser — where she went to “uncurse” herself after a bad reading with a fortune teller.
Jennifer Hixson, a senior producer with The Moth, said there are only a few parameters for slam stories, which the speakers then expand if they reach the main stage.
“They have to be about five minutes, true and related to the theme,” Hixson said. “People who show up have such wildly varied stories — some are funny, silly, serious, it’s just the luck of the draw.”
Rhode Island author and educator Matthew Dicks followed Wilburn with a recollection of growing up as a teenager in an unhappy household. One year after working as a manager at McDonald’s, he saved enough money to buy himself a happy Christmas.
However, on his way home from buying presents, he was severely injured in a car accident. Dicks’ parents failed to show up at the hospital, but his friends came, proving to him that he was, in fact, loved.
Dicks said he’s led a life of unusual misfortune, and his friends felt like it was time to make something good of his struggles and bad luck.
“I was terrified about taking the stage and hated everything about storytelling until the moment I began speaking. Then I fell instantly in love,” Dicks said. “The funny thing is that I’ve yet to tell the stories of many of those terrible misfortunes. It turns out that it’s sometimes the small moments in our lives that make the best stories.”
Author Kate Braestrup, who grew up traveling the world with her foreign correspondent father, explained why advancing to the longer story format featured on the mainstage can be tricky.
“You tell the story live, which allows some room for variation and inspiration, but since you have to fit your whole story into 10 minutes, any really significant changes are risky,” Braestrup said.
Following the intermission, Pittsburgh teacher and comedian David Montgomery opened the second half of the event with a tale about growing up as a gay teenager in rural Pennsylvania. He felt isolated and alone, until realizing his true idols in life were the members of the ’90s pop group the Spice Girls, because of their bold and unabashedly loud personalities.
After the group went on a reunion tour in 2007, he quit his job as an educator and drained his savings account to follow the the Spice Girls on their tour. He realized that he wasn’t alone, and that he could be who he wanted to be.
Actress Danusia Trevino, who performed a story about her experience on jury duty, said she looks at life as an opportunity to inspire with a story.
“When people talk to me after the show, people talk about how listening to stories makes them feel like they’re not alone in the world,” Trevino said. “They’re not the only ones who go through difficult situations. They feel more human, and it sort of brings the world closer.”