This week, Hit Sauce is on, getting excited about stripping songs down to pure story. We’re listening to The Moth, taking out melody and backbeat and leaving just the voice, semi-monotone, alone on a microphone. A side of music is provided by violinist/vocalist Mazz Swift.
American storytelling has been hitting a high note of late, as experienced through incisive, sharp writing on your favorite television show or live at a local story slam.
What’s a story slam? It's a banging competition of bard prowess, a forum for bedtime tale ruminators-gone-pro. At a story slam, contestants take the stage for a maximum of, say, five minutes to tell a true story that happened to them. The story can be based on a theme like regret, temptation or adrenaline. Judges rank the storytelling based on criteria like organization and conflict resolution using Olympics-style scoring.
Storytelling events are popular in music venues and theaters nationwide. Porchlight is an event in San Francisco that has been spinning yarns for 11 years. Chicago has options like Story Sessions, Write Club, Grown Folks Stories and Story Lab. In Austin, New Orleans and Los Angeles storytelling-as-improv is being touted as the new jazz. From NYC, the city that morphed poetry into spoken-word ciphers, comes the original story slam phenom The Moth. New York is the first to institute the practice through a touring production and radio broadcasts of The Moth.
With so many more elaborate entertainment options, why go out in the cold to hear strangers tell personal tales? A regular story slam is spontaneous and told by regular Joes and Janes, no filter. It is truth in real time. Some Moth events include authors and celebrities so it is a more glamorous version of barstool babble. But story slams are wildly popular for the pure open-mic experience. At a recent Moth I heard tales from youth alongside an anecdote from a commute. Narrators took the audience through a range of emotions from sympathy to elation to relief. It wasn’t unlike witnessing characters on the A train, really, but with more structure. After about 10 diverse stories from educated 30-somethings, a potty-mouthed grandmother nailed first place with a story about shtupping her college professor.
Violinist and singer Mazz Swift is ideal musical talent for a story slam. Like Theresa Andersson and Reggie Watts, Mazz uses a loop station to create multi-layered compositions on the spot. Her approach to the violin is a lush blend of folk and soul that is uniquely satisfying. It sets the tone for the stage at The Moth, an event praised for offering an especially human experience.
The Moth story slam series is live in New York Dec 10, 12 and 16. For more information, visit themoth.org.