Drawn to the flame

Local Minnesotans take the stage at the Fitzgerald Theater for The Moth, a New York-based storytelling outlet and weekly radio show.

by Joseph Kleinschmidt


Inspired by the camaraderie he and his friends developed between late-night gatherings, novelist George Dawes Green started The Moth in 1997, a New York venue for true stories told live in front of audiences. His friends, drawn to each otherâÄôs stories like moths to a flame, shared true experiences uninterrupted by questions or comments.

âÄúShe had this little bungalow and weâÄôd sit out on the porch and drink a lot of bourbon and just tell stories all night,âÄù Green said. âÄúThese were just magical evenings.âÄù

The empty exchanges at cocktail parties in New York forced Green to start a venue to replicate the summer evenings with friends in his native Georgia.

âÄúPeople are waiting on the outskirts of any conversation like vultures,âÄù Green said. âÄúNobody ever had room to tell an extended story.âÄù

Live events for the hour of true stories spread quickly after he launched The Moth out of his apartment. Green views storytelling as prehistoric, an innate art form sometimes lost in todayâÄôs increasingly online-oriented culture.

âÄúItâÄôs all the sense of being around fire, when people can finally be honest,âÄù Green said.

Hosting celebrities from Moby, Ethan Hawke, Darryl âÄúD.M.C.âÄù McDaniels, Al Sharpton and MinnesotaâÄôs own Garrison Keillor, the nonprofit has expanded to a weekly radio program broadcasted on 200 stations nationwide. The Moth Radio Hour received the Peabody Award âÄî the highest honor in broadcasting âÄî in 2010 for its reinvigoration in the art of storytelling.

Touring 16 times a year, GreenâÄôs true story outlet comes to the Fitzgerald Theater for the first time with the theme, âÄúWhen Worlds Collide: Stories from the Clash.âÄù Stories about people stepping into the unknown and taking a risk outline the nightâÄôs stories, Producing Director Sarah Austin Jenness said.

âÄúItâÄôs part of The MothâÄôs mission to really dig these stories up and to get them out there. These stories that otherwise would go unheard,âÄù Jenness added.

Featuring Elna Baker, Kimberly Reed, Mark Katz and local storytellers Tristan Jimerson and Barbara Wiener, the long running storytelling venue includes regulars featured on The Moth Radio Hour as well as anyone willing to pitch their stories by calling a hotline.

Jimerson, a native of Iowa currently living in Minneapolis as a copywriter, pitched his story about tracking down someone who attempted to steal his identity. Stranded in Minneapolis on his spring break, he went to work on his own.

âÄúI had an entire week of absolutely nothing so I started to track this person down,âÄù Jimerson said. âÄúAnd it got kind of out of hand quickly, and eventually I found tons of information about them.âÄù

Jimerson turned over the information to the police and his efforts paid off âÄî authorities caught the man who committed fraud.

At times shocking, hilarious and deeply moving, Moth stories reflect all parts of the human experience. The personal accounts, about 10 minutes long, resonate with audiences for their brave content.

âÄúThe more specific you can be in your own personal story, the more universal it becomes,âÄù Jenness said.

âÄúThis willing to admit failure and weakness is absolutely the core of what people respond to,âÄù Green said.

GreenâÄôs outlet uses the oldest art form of storytelling and as a nonprofit, has even expanded its operations to community education programs. Traveling to schools, The Moth regularly features studentsâÄô stories on their podcast.

âÄúThereâÄôs never really been a venue where storytelling has been appreciated as an art,âÄù Green said. âÄúItâÄôs always been celebrated, but itâÄôs always been kept in the kitchen.âÄù

Stories of success or inspirational speeches in other storytelling groups do not connect with audiences like The MothâÄôs stories, focused on human vulnerability and individuality. Instead of relating to people with broad, formulaic stories, The Moth embraces a range of perspective that lends to a deeper sense of connection among the audience and performer.

Green said, âÄúThese stories are so deep and penetrating that people feel, when theyâÄôre listening, that theyâÄôre with human beings.âÄù