Eighty-seven year old Shirley Mayhew grew up in the Depression, remembers two wars, lived on Martha’s Vineyard in the good old days, and has traveled by herself to 27 different countries.
“None of my friends and family remember half the things I have experienced,” she said. “The Vietnam War is ancient history to my grandchildren.”
But one thing she hasn’t experienced? Telling a story on stage to 2,000 people.
“I have never, never in my life since grammar school been on stage,” she said.
But on Saturday, August 3, Mrs. Mayhew will join four other speakers as they tell stories of being a Fish out of Water, the theme for The Moth Mainstage this year on the Vineyard.
“It’s about being in a situation you’ve never been in before,” said Meg Bowles, curatorial director of the Moth. “Maybe you are in too deep, or maybe you just don’t know how to react to your surroundings.”
The Moth began in 1997 in New York city and since then it has hosted thousands of storytelling events both on stage and on the radio. The mantra is true stories told live with no notes or net of any kind. This is the second year for The Moth on the Vineyard. New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik will host the event, to be held at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.
Charter boat captain Buddy Vanderhoop will take the audience out to sea amidst a perfect storm. Gazette managing editor Bill Eville will navigate the emotional terrain of trying to hold down the family fort during his wife’s breast cancer treatment. And Mrs. Mayhew will describe the changing role of a woman from when she was a young girl to when her daughters were born, and how she switched gears from housewife to world traveler.
“So I had to condense 87 years in 10 minutes,” Mrs. Mayhew said. “There’s so much to tell!”
Mrs. Mayhew said the idea of telling a story live onstage has been a challenge. She is more comfortable with writing and joins Cynthia Riggs every Sunday for a writing group. In fact, it was through Ms. Riggs that the Moth found Mrs. Mayhew. Last year Ms. Riggs gave a standout performance at the inaugural Vineyard Moth, even retelling her story in New York city for a Valentine’s Day special. Ms. Bowles has worked with the selected raconteurs to craft their stories, reminding them of the differences between telling a story and reading a story. “You want to take the person on the journey,” she said. “You want them to be surprised when you were surprised, have emotions when you had emotions.” Additional storytellers include humorist Mark Katz and seasonal resident Jenny Allen who will describe the difficulties of raising a daughter in the unfamiliar terrain of the digital age. The Moth is also offering a public MOTHshop Storytelling Workshop the following week for those wanting to learn how to craft their own stories. The same simple rules apply: true stories, no notes. “It’s a little like you are telling a story sitting at a dinner table with friends and a glass of wine,” Ms. Bowles said. “The magic of the Moth is that it’s not a performance. Your audience doesn’t come in and sit down waiting to write a review or critique about what is wrong. They sit down to see someone like Buddy Vanderhoop tell a story. They want him to do well and cheer him on. And see a little bit of themselves in him.” The Moth Mainstage starts at 8 p.m. at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on Saturday, August 3. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale online. Visit themoth.org.