THE MOTH/ Storytelling Workshop.
We all tell stories every single day. But what I learnt, is that there is a beautiful and subtle art to crafting incredible stories and living your truth.
Behold The Moth. Its name came about with its creation 20 years ago (2017 marks its 20 year anniversary). The Moth is a non-profit organization based out of New York City that is dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. The Moth has presented thousands of stories told live and without the use of notes across the United States and abroad, and often features prominent personalities. They run workshops for high school students as well as adults for underserved communities. Their podcast is downloaded over 44 million times a year. Each week, the Peabody Award winning “Moth Radio Hour” is heard on over 450 radio stations worldwide.
Whoa, how had I never heard of this before and also, what the heck is THIS!?
After a brief introduction explaining the backstory of the organization, one of the first questions that was asked was “what does The Moth stand for?” After a few guesses, we were told the founder, novelist George Dawes Green, simply wanted to recreate that beautiful summer evening feel of his hometown in Georgia. While sitting on his porch telling tales with his friends, he saw the moths drawn towards the light, hurtling themselves with the keenest sense of destination, and was inspired by them.
We were then shown a five minute video of a man on stage during The Moth‘s Grand Slam, which is basically the Olympics of storytelling. The plot was not complex. It was essentially about how he feared death (like so many of us do) but after watching his grandmother pass, he feared death a little less.
Sound simple? Dead wrong.
The way he crafted this story was so captivating that you found yourself drawing a little closer to the screen. He had five minutes to speak, and the room was hanging on to his every word. I did not overlook his details, his powerful opening, and the perfect theming of the story. Those five minutes were as attention grabbing as any shocking headline in the news.
From there, we were split off into smaller groups, each of which was assigned a team leader from The Moth. We were given notes and a handout on the principles behind a Moth story, and were told to work with a partner to start to craft what we wanted to say.
The suggestion of how to come about with a good story were to use the words FIRST/BEST/WORST/LAST to narrow your focus (ie “The First time I kissed someone”…”the best experience of my life”…. “the worst date I ever went on” and so forth). We then told our stories to our partners, trying our best to convey ourselves in a tightly knit frame.
The Moth principles are as follows:
1) What is the THEME of your story? In one word, what is your story about?
2) What is at STAKE for you in your story? How can you articulate this at the top of your story?
3) Consider the ARC. What is your moment of change? What is the moment that inspired you to action?
4) In your story you go from ______ to ________ ?
5) What is your first line? What is your last line?
There are no notes in Moth Storytelling, the only thing you are to have memorized is your first and last line.
I went on to tell my partner and then the room my narrative: When I was a little girl, it was my dream to dance at the National Ballet of Canada after my mom bought me a colourful book about a girl who grew up to be a ballerina. When I was 11, I was allowed to audition for the school, and I got accepted! We lived in Vancouver, but the school was in Toronto (for my beautiful non-Canadian friends…that’s the difference between LA and NYC.. so it’s far!) I then went on to be asked to stay to attend the year round program. And I was asked for many years to continue, and lived most of my high school years happily at boarding school, spending my days and evenings with the same group of 10 to 15 beautiful and wild ballerinas.
Sadly, one year I got the dreaded and devastating news that I would not be asked back for the following year.
I found out via a tearful phone call from my mother. Even though she was supposed to wait until after my final dance exam to tell me(we ended off our school year with a final performance on stage which the whole faculty would watch and evaluate), my mom simply could not hold back letting me know. I could not tell anyone that I knew that this would be my final opportunity to be on that stage and with my friends.
Even at a young age, I experienced my first heartbreak.
I knew that the following year my life was about to dramatically change, as I had to go back to Vancouver and figure out the next steps in my life.
I ended my story with describing my final dance performance. Of how I knew that would be the last time I would dance across that stage. But, in spite of this, I chose to keep a smile on my face and dance my heart out, until my final bow and graceful exit off the stage.
I could not believe how many emotions rushed up to me when standing in front of everyone telling that tale. I described the tiny details, such as the pay-phones hanging just outside our common room, and how our parents would have to spend hours trying to get through the two phone lines just to get connected to us, only to have me hurry off the phone because I was in the middle of watching Gilmore Girls.
Reliving the gut wrenching conversation between my mom and me made me tear up. My mom knew that it was my dream to dance for the National Ballet, and for her to have to break the news to her daughter that her dreams would no longer be a reality was tough to do.
After I spoke, one of the instructors asked The Moth leader the question “When speaking for The Moth, can you just change the story? Could she not have decided to end hers differently…. like after her final performance, she blew everyone away so much with her passion for dance that they changed their mind and reaccepted her?” Certainly, that would be a better or more heroic story!
“Our leader explained that you should stay as close to the truth as possible, even if it does not make for the best or most dramatic story.”
The truth is what you are most connected to, and your audience will feel that from you. Even though this happened years ago, the truth of how painful and hard that experience was came rushing back to me. I felt so invested in my story when I told it because I was deeply changed and shaped by it.
Crafting a story takes being committed to YOUR TRUTH, no matter how hard that is, or seemingly mundane from an outside perspective.
What I took away from this experience is that your stories do not need to be epic, or perfect, or huge to inspire. And likewise, YOU do not need to be perfect to inspire others.
Akin to how a moths destiny is to reach the light, our human nature is to seek the truth in others. Those around you are drawn to your your life, your truth and hard earned lessons. Share your stories proudly. Stay close to your truth, even if they are painful. The best things that have happened in my life have often been the hardest, and the smallest details usually the most profound and life changing.
If you would like to watch or hear some of The Moth stories you can find them here. Maybe you will be so inspired that you want to go and tell a story of your own on their stage!
Live your truth. Always. Your stories are worth being shared.
If you missed Soul Legends, Part 1, you can check it out here.