Twin Cities storytellers compete for best personal story

The Moth’s very first virtual Twin Cities storytelling event was a slam dunk.

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The show consisted of eight storytellers, each with a personal story that was five to six minutes long. This year’s theme is “do-overs.” 

Meg Bishop

Readers, writers and artists across the Twin Cities tuned in to StorySLAM, a virtual storytelling competition, on July 22. 

The Moth, a New York based storytelling production organization, brought its storytelling competition show to the Twin Cities. StorySLAM is a touring storytellers extravaganza event. It has been hosted yearly in Minneapolis since 2013.

According to Miss Shannan, StorySLAM’s Minneapolis show host, moving the event online didn’t reduce crowd participation.

“We still had the energy and excitement of the audience,” she said. 

The winner from each city advances to compete in The Moth’s nationwide storytelling GrandSLAM at the end of StorySLAM’s tour this year. In the past, each state would have its own GrandSLAM, but due to COVID-19, the plans changed.

The show consisted of eight storytellers, each with a personal story that was five to six minutes long. This year’s theme is “do-overs.” Storytellers found out the theme beforehand but were asked not to practice. Instead, they shared the story as if it were being told for the first time. Contestants shared about a life experience that stuck out and stayed with them. 

This year’s Minneapolis competition was one of the first virtual show’s StorySLAM has hosted, taking place via Google Hangouts.

To make the virtual show seem like an in-person event, the hosts added different crowd chatter and clapping noises throughout the show.

“When I perform on stage in front of people there is an ‘unspoken, indescribable energy,’ kind of thing that comes over me, but now the stage is my room in my house where I live, and the audience is the computer screen,” said Gregory Pickett, Minneapolis storyteller and last year’s Minnesota Grand Slam winner.

There are repeat storytellers and newcomers in each show. “It’s scary to stand up and tell your story, but it eases some stress when doing it from your living room,” Shannan said. 

Stories varied from covering topics about never getting to see family members because of the coronavirus to almost coming in last place during a marathon. 

The winning storyteller on July 22 was Nestor Gomez, a Minneapolis resident whose elderly mother has been setting food on his doorstep as a surprise because they can no longer get together for occasional family dinners.

“A great part of storytelling is having vulnerability,” said Jenifer Hixson, senior producer at The Moth. “A story about someone who is like, ‘I did this thing. It was fantastic. I was perfect in it, and it all worked out for me and I’m ever so happy now’ — not much of a story.”

For Shannan, hearing each story is like listening to a short audiobook read aloud by its author. “I like the honesty and how raw it is to see a storyteller share their life,” she said.

The next Twin Cities StorySLAM is set for August 26.