The raconteurs: The Moth Mainstage comes to Breckenridge for an encore
BRECKENRIDGE — Gather ’round and pay attention. It’s time to hear a story.
The Moth Mainstage, the flagship program of the Public Radio Exchange show, is spending a night in Breckenridge this weekend. Like the insects crowding around a porch as friends talk outside on a summer’s evening, the occasion is a chance for people to hear stories that go against the dominate narrative and hopefully leave the venue changed after being entranced.
The Moth launched in 1997, and over the years people like Malcolm Gladwell, John Turturro, Molly Ringwald and Rosanne Cash have taken the microphone in hand to open up and tell a tale about themselves. By not sharing work written by someone else, the events help connect people and build a community.
Bringing these stories to life is Executive Producer Sarah Austin Jenness, who will be directing the show in Breckenridge. Jenness first joined the organization as a one-night volunteer, fell in love with the “modern take on the oldest art form” and then became an employee in 2005.
“Over the course of these 15 years, the heartbeat of The Moth is still the same,” Jenness said. “It’s all about a simple, well-told, personal story. But the stories are amplified in a way that they weren’t back then.”
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Originally from Long Island, Jenness grew up in a family of storytellers and loved theater when she was younger. In college at Boston University, her passion became documentaries, and after graduating she worked as a freelance producer for film, television shows and commercials. Yet she wanted to put down roots in New York, so she sent in her application to The Moth a year after volunteering at one of its shows.
The medium was different, but the commonality of individualized stories is what drew her to the organization.
What: The Moth Mainstage
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge
Cost: $25 to $35. Visit BreckCreate.org to purchase.
“These Moth stories are like short, live documentaries where you’re not playing a role. You’re not cast as someone else,” Jenness said. “You’re sharing with a group of strangers something true about yourself. They’re almost like fingerprints. It shows me something really unique about everyone who steps on stage.”
At first, the only way to hear the shows after the performance was to purchase CDs, and over time Jenness has seen The Moth change from an underground scene to having wide reach with the OpenSLAMS, the internationally touring Mainstage, The Moth Podcast and The Moth Radio Hour.
“At this point, we’re in 30 different cities with our open mic nights. We have about 40 Mainstages every year,” Jenness said. “We have global workshops in Africa to help people who are advocates to use personal storytelling in their work. The Moth Radio Hour is on over 500 radio stations, and the podcast is downloaded 72 million times a year. … Every story that moves on to our channels is heard by at least 2.5 million people.
“It’s really a not for profit organization that’s helping people practice the art of listening and understanding,” she said.
Into the unknown
Breckenridge’s show will be recorded, like all The Moth Mainstage events, but it is still to be determined what, if any, clips will make it on the airwaves or online. This makes Leap Day the only guaranteed opportunity to catch unique tales.
“Something about each story is going to be fresh,” Jenness said. “People buy tickets to these live events not having any idea of who they are going to see. That still floors me. We rarely have someone that’s like a headliner in these shows. It’s usually like the sheriff and the hot dog eating champion.”
Playing off the day that occurs almost every four years, Saturday’s storytelling theme is “Leap of Faith.” The five handpicked speakers — author, journalist and photographer Andrea Collier; Denver-based Alistair Bane; real estate broker Aaron Trompeter; poet, artist, dancer and English professor Wang Ping; and mountain guide and comedian Monte Montepare — will be sharing pieces of themselves for about two hours, without notes.
“One is a thriller, one is the story of a man buying his first home and he finds that there may be spirits still in the home, and then we have a story of a mother from Michigan, and there’s a twist that happens right at the top,” Jenness said. “The stories are pretty gripping. You don’t know which way they’re going to go.
“They’re the stories that are the most fun for me to work on, where the audience really has to just buckle up and they have no idea how these stories are going to work out.”
Though no one on stage is a current Summit County resident, former local Montepare is returning to his hometown for The Moth. He moved to Alaska when he was 20 and is now based out of Los Angeles. Montepare is a three-time Moth StorySLAM winner, a Moth GrandSLAM champion and was a keynote presenter at the 2018 Ouray Ice Climbing Festival.
Introducing each storyteller is regular Moth StorySLAM host Jon Goode, an author, poet and playwright from Richmond, Virginia, who resides in Atlanta. Cellist Russick Smith, known for frequently participating in the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, will open the show with a musical arrangement and perform an interlude after intermission.
If by the end of the show audience members are inspired to share their own stories, there are a few options to get involved. For starters, those who are interested can participate in a StorySLAM open mic. Bane was discovered via the one in Denver, and the next events are March 20 and April 17 at Swallow Hill Music in Denver.
Secondly, there is also the option of calling the pitch hotline, like Trompeter did, and leaving a two-minute voicemail that gives a sense of one’s personality and a story outline — without any cliffhangers.
Regardless of how people submit their ideas, Jenness stresses that most speakers are everyday people. They might have nerves at the start, but she said lots tell her when they get off stage that they want to do it again. Jenness also said The Moth audiences aren’t usually judgmental people coming in with their arms folded, waiting for something good, like they might at an evening of stand-up comedy.
“The best Moth shows include people who have extraordinary stories but don’t necessarily think of themselves as storytellers,” Jenness said. “I love to laugh, and I love working with comics on serious stories. I love working with people who are serious on fun stories.”
None of the storytellers operate in a vacuum, and Jenness helps people fine-tune what they want to say with the rest of her team. She notes that a story should include personal change while letting the audience in on something special as the speaker peels back their layers over the course of 10 minutes. The audience should feel like they’re in the storytellers shoes, but the story shouldn’t be a confessional.
“It’s kind of like driving a car,” Jenness said. “You don’t just go from point A to point B. You stop along the way and really point things out. You tell us what these things mean to you.”
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