Are you a sucker for oral storytelling?
Me too. I love the MOTH Radio Hour on NPR. Love it.
So, when I was visiting in the Bay Area, looking for somewhere to take my sister to repay her hospitality, I saw there was a MOTH Story Slam. No brainer. I got the tickets.
My sister is aware that, quiet and unassuming as I usually am, I sometimes do daring things.
Getting on a stage in front of a packed theatre and telling a story in 5 minutes or less is…daring.
My sister asked if I planned to tell a story.
I shrugged. Said, “I don’t know.” Because…scary.
Did I mention there are rules to a Story Slam? No notes. Has to be on a theme (this one was Wonders). Done at 5 minute mark whether you’ve finished the story or not.
BUT…I had been writing at a little coffee shop in Point Richmond (Kaleidoscope, stop in if you are ever nearby). The owner/manager was retelling fairytales to hone her oral storytelling skill. It just so happened that she told one of these stories on a night when I was thinking about how to tell one if I found the courage to get up on stage at the Moth Story Slam.
She set a wonderful example for what I’d need to do to tell my story well: lots of pauses (the equivalent of white space for novelists like me), hand gestures (like punctuation), and room for audience reaction (scene break!). Seriously — if you are ever in the area, GO. Amazing. And good coffee, too.
So I walked along the Bay, and in the park (I like to walk a lot when I’m in the Bay Area), and I told the story to myself. I chose one I’d told a lot, to others, over the years. But 5 minutes is not as long as you’d think, and I’m a novelist, so…I pared and cut and scraped away all embellishments to this story. And there were many.
Finally, I had a shape I could remember (no NOTES!!!). I had built in room for pauses and audience reaction.
We got to the theatre and sat down. You had to go up front to fill in a form if you wanted to tell a story. They would only pick ten.
My sister looked at me. “Are you going to sign up?”
“Might as well.” I acted casual, as if I hadn’t been practicing and obsessing over this story. I filled in the card and put it in the hands of fate whether I would tell my story on stage or not.
I sat back and enjoyed the storytelling of the first few participants, pushing down the butterflies every time my name was NOT called.
And then my name was called.
And I told my story, with the pauses, and hand gestures, and in under 5 minutes.
Did I mention that the audience grades you? Yep. I didn’t know that either. I got a 9 out of 10, so I couldn’t complain. I didn’t win (did I forget to mention there is a winner, who gets invited to a bigger StorySlam?). I wouldn’t have been able to participate in the bigger StorySlam because I was headed home, so I didn’t mind. I’d won all I needed with the opportunity to tell my story to an audience, and hear them laugh and gasp exactly where I wanted them to.
If you’re curious, you can listen to it below.