Last night, along with a friend, I spent an hour waiting in a very long line on 5th Ave. in Brooklyn so I could pack myself into South Paw with two hunderd and forty-eight others for two and a half hours, to hear ten perfect strangers tell stories about "getting burned." I was taking part in the storytelling event and experience known as The Moth.
And I loved every minute of it. Well, not the waiting in line part. That was a little too reminiscent of my days as an actor, lining up on 46th St. at 5:00am outside the Actors' Equity building to audition for a Broadway show that had already been cast. And it didn't thrill me to find a chewed up lime slice and half of someone's drink all over my rear end from sitting on South Paw's dirty floor. But, hearing the stories, and watching people get up in front of a crowded room and bare their souls, was well worth the $7 cost and long wait.
Of the ten stories, I would say that about three of them were really, really good. The rest ranged from cringe worthy (my friend Alexej's assessment) to fair.
What quantifies a "good" story to me? Well, for starters, it has to have a clear beginning, middle and end; it has to stay on topic and stick to the given theme; it has to have interesting details or characters that really draw me in, and it has to have a build to a conflict and then resolve. Pretty basic stuff, but not so easy to do when you are standing at a microphone in front of 250 people.
Next, there's delivery. It was really obvious that many of the people up at the microphone had carefully written their stories and memorized them. In my book, they lost points for that. That sense of discovery and "meaning making" that occurs when someone fully re-visits an experience that is significant to them as they tell it is priceless. That just can't be recreated, no matter how good of an actor or writer you are.
Finally, the really good stories resonated with me. Sometimes it was because of the subject matter, sometimes, it was simply because of the brave honesty and generous way in which they were told. All my favorite stories had one thing in common--they needed to be told. Whether it was to enlighten us, educate us or just makes us laugh at human folly, they has a sense of purpose to them that made them meaningful to me and the others in that packed room.
My evening at The Moth last night, reminded me why I'm so lucky to be operating in field that values stories and storytelling so much. I get to be a part of an industry that is filled with people who believe certain stories are so essential and necessary, that they will invest millions of dollars, and hours and hours of their time and energy, to make sure those stories get shared on a grand scale.
I'm glad I took a night off from Helen, and now I'm even more inspired to dig back in to make sure I get my story told.