I have long been a devotee of The Moth Radio Hour that airs on WCAI (and is also produced there), where people tell true stories from their lives with no notes or props of any kind. So when I saw a flyer for a Moth storytelling workshop to take place on the Vineyard in August of 2012, I knew I had to enroll. I immediately called to see if the class was full. It wasn’t, and I enrolled instantly. I just had to be a part of this.
It’s not that I felt I had an exceptional story to tell or that I thought I was a great storyteller. But I love being a part of this process. Witnessing or facilitating the birth of someone’s story is simply transformative, whether it’s my own or someone else’s. It is a beautiful thing.
The last component of the workshop was our own mini-Moth show performed for the eight workshop participants and our guests. I was nervous, but afterwards I actually felt good about how my story came out. We all did, and we celebrated our success in completing the workshop and in the experience of revealing ourselves in a new way.
A couple of months later I visited the Moth’s website and noticed that there was a StorySLAM coming up in Boston. I was excited to go see the event and contacted my amazing instructors from the workshop, Meg Bowles and Kate Tellers, to ask if they would be there. They replied that they wouldn’t, but suggested that I put my name in the hat and tell my story from the workshop.
At first I didn’t understand exactly what they meant. I hadn’t been planning to tell a story. I simply wanted to go listen. I wasn’t even aware of the format of a StorySLAM.
But the idea had been planted in my head, so I dusted off my notes from the workshop and began to reconstruct my story. I practiced, practiced and practiced, just to make sure I knew the story well enough. My goal was simple: not to bomb.
I arrived at the Oberon Theatre in Cambridge so early there was plenty of time to freak myself out. Being the first StorySLAM in this area, a few Moth folks from New York were there to help with the launch, including host Dan Kennedy of podcast fame.
During a StorySLAM, 10 people get randomly selected each night to tell their stories, with five in the first act and five in the second. Storytellers must keep their tales to a five-minute length. Three panels of judges are selected and are given a list of criteria on which to base their scores.
I had no idea it was a contest! But I put my name in the bag as instructed.
The show began and, one by one, names were drawn and stories were told. I was in awe of each story I heard, and as each new name was drawn my stomach turned with anxiety. To my relief, my name was not called during the first half of the show. During intermission I decided that I was just too nervous to go through with it, that my story seemed silly compared to the others, and that it just wasn’t my night. I approached Dan Kennedy and asked him if he would take my name out of the bag.
He asked me why and then said, tongue-in-cheek, “Why don’t we just let the universe decide?” Despite his tone, I decided he was right and acquiesced. After all, I had prepared, so why not go through with it if it was meant to be.
Act 2 began. My butterflies awoke and fluttered each time Dan put his hand in the bag to draw a name. Eight stories had been told, and I had a weird feeling about the next one. Sure enough, he announced my name. There was no turning back now. I walked up to the mic, took a breath and went for it.
I managed to remember nearly everything I had rehearsed and I heard applause when I finished. But mainly I was just glad it was over.
My scores began to come in, but I paid no mind as my goal was simply to not bomb. But then someone sitting near me leaned over and whispered “You’re gonna win!”
I couldn’t believe it! I had no intention of winning. I was just happy that I didn’t bomb. But then, after the last storyteller finished, the scores were tallied and a winner was declared, it turned out I had won the first Boston Moth StorySLAM.
It’s true that I didn’t care about winning, but the fact that I did win serves as a reminder to me of what’s possible when we take risks and step outside our comfort zones. I try to remind myself of this now as I prepare for the Boston GrandSLAM tonight, Jan. 24, in Somerville. As one of the StorySLAM winners last year, I was invited to tell a story along with nine other winners in the first Boston Moth GrandSLAM. At first I was excited about being in the Grand Slam, until I received the email last month with the official invitation. And after learning how big the theatre is (900 seats), and that it’s sold out, the fear really set in.
We had to come up with new stories for this contest. But my goal remains the same: not to bomb.
Jane Loutzenhiser lives in Oak Bluffs and is a frequent contributor to the Gazette.