MothUP St. Louis

For the full Moth experience, we decided, we would have to go to a Story Slam in person. Luckily, a thriving Moth affiliate group has recently taken root right here in St. Louis.

A few months ago, PLAYBACK:stl recommended the seriously addictive Moth podcast (http://playbackstl.com/the-state-im-in/9767-the-moth-podcast). Of course, the irony of sitting alone with headphones on, listening to podcasts of events intended to foster meaningful, face-to-face interactions was not lost on us. For the full Moth experience, we decided, we would have to go to a Story Slam in person. Luckily, a thriving Moth affiliate group has recently taken root right here in St. Louis. Organized by intrepid local Moth fans Stacey Wehe and Amanda Boyce, MothUP St. Louis gathers on a roughly monthly basis for open-mic storytelling at Foam Coffee & Beer.

First, let’s recap. The Moth is a New York based storytelling project. The word storytelling is used loosely here; really, "memory-telling" would be a more accurate description. The basic idea is for people to gather together in a casual setting and tell true stories about their own lives, without using notes. The stories are short—15 minutes or less—and relate in some way to a pre-determined theme, which is different for each gathering. The organization doesn’t officially host events in St. Louis, but the website does suggest that people host their own D.I.Y. Moth Story Slams, or "MothUPs."
 
Wehe and Boyce contacted the Moth and got an enthusiastic blessing on plans to form MothUP St. Louis. From there, the girls were on their own to find a venue willing to host Story Slams. "We called every coffee shop we’d ever been to and started networking with people," Boyce recalls. "Foam found us when we started our Facebook group. The owner, Mike Glodeck, is a big Moth fan, and he had been wanting to start one of these groups on his own. So once he found out that we were doing it, he offered to let us use Foam."
 
The main organization in New York has a fairly hands-off approach to affiliate groups, allowing them to come up with their own themes for events, select their own judges and enforce time limits as strictly or loosely as they please. “We’ve had a lot of fun finding St. Louis celebrity judges,” Boyce says. “We get local business owners, artists; we had [St. Louis Public Radio General Manager] Tim Eby one month.” The girls also like to randomly appoint audience members as judges.
 
There is one very interesting rule that has posed a bit of an obstacle for Wehe and Boyce. The Moth does not allow affiliate groups to advertise events in any way. This means no flyers, no radio spots, no ads in the Riverfront Times. Instead, upcoming Story Slams have to be publicized through social networking sites or, better yet, word-of-mouth. This makes sense if you consider the Moth’s raison d’être. “They want people who really want to be there, not for it just to be another social event,” Wehe says. It might take longer to build a following without ads, but as people talk about MothUP St. Louis and invite their friends to events, a community of Moth enthusiasts grows up organically. This way, people show up at Story Slams already sharing a common interest in the Moth. Plus, there are lots of connections through mutual acquaintances to further promote mingling.
 
This is a fairly accurate description of the scene inside Foam Coffee & Beer at the most recent MothUP event. About 70 people filled the cafe’s warmly lit front room, sipping pumpkin ale and introducing one another to friends. The theme for the night was "Broke: Stories of Things that Go Bust." Wehe and Boyce selected judges from the audience and introduced each person as they took the stage, but beyond that, the spotlight was on the storytellers.
 
Let’s get this out of the way: no, the stories told that night were not, on average, as good as those featured each week on the Moth podcast. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; the podcast material is cherry-picked from the most interesting and memorable stories told at Moth events all around the country. Some mistakes were made onstage at Foam—a couple of stories needed clearer focus, there were some awkward or abrupt endings—but overall the night was refreshingly unpredictable and a lot of fun.
 
The evening’s winners were Maureen Hanlon and Ken Wolfe. Maureen told us about her extremely strange, touching encounter with a broken-hearted African woman. Ken (with the help of his banjo) managed to turn the terrifying experience of falling asleep behind the wheel into a hilarious tale full of slapstick comedy. You can watch both stories in full on the MothUp St. Louis Facebook page.
 
Attending a Story Slam in person does add an element of community that you can’t get from a podcast. Stacey summed it up: “We want the engagement to be between everyone there—it’s not a performance. It’s a completely supportive atmosphere.” She was right. Kids swap secrets to cement a friendship; the group gathered at Foam bonded through an adult version of this practice. The night ended with a pitch-perfect twist: after the last story, Boyce’s boyfriend took the stage, dropped down on one knee and asked her to marry him. Too stunned to speak, she passionately nodded yes, and a room full of 70+ newfound friends erupted into cheers and celebration. | Taban Salem
 
The next MothUP Story Slam is scheduled for Nov. 11 at Foam Coffee & Beer, located at 3359 S Jefferson Ave in St. Louis. The theme will be “Ohh, Baby: Screams of delight, disgust and despair.” If you’d like to tell a story or want to be added to the MothUP St. Louis mailing list, contact Stacey Wehe and Amanda Boyce through the MothUP St. Louis Facebook page or at MothUPStL@gmail.com.
 

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