Nestled in the hustle and bustle of Old Street is the achingly cool Book Club. This hipster’s paradise serving delicious food and cold beer (alongside a ping pong table – of course) was the venue for a fantastic ‘StorySLAM’ event, The Moth.
Launched in 1997 in the USA, The Moth is live, true stories told at themed events. Speakers volunteer themselves on arrival, have around five minutes to tell their tales, without notes, after which they are scored by selected judges in the audience. The winners of these ‘StorySLAM’ events will then go on to compete with each other at a ‘GrandSLAM’ Championship.
Over the last 20 years The Moth has evolved into a Radio show and a podcast – which is how I found out about them. Live events are held in London once a month with tickets normally selling out in a flash. I was thrilled to dip my toes for the first time into the potential well of human experience.
|The spotlight and ‘rules of engagement’|
This month, the chosen theme was simply ‘Beauty’. Hosted by Sara Barron, author of two essay collections titled “The Harm in Asking” and “People Are Unappealing”, she humorously got our evening underway as we settled underneath a ceiling decorated by a solid layer of lightbulbs. These jangled as heavy footed folk treaded on the floor above us and made me feel like I was sitting in a sleigh, adding a fantastical quality indeed.
In all there were ten storytellers brave enough to face the spotlight. Their styles and stories varied greatly. Adam was the first who spoke of seeing beauty in accomplishment, followed by Sarah who spoke of learning to find it in life and those she loved instead of objects. Ju spoke of his definition of beauty as being when the implausible and the comprehendible touch. Korsa shared her experiences with a toxic sense of beauty while Alison commented on her appreciation of natural beauty hiking in the Himalayas. Lucy spoke about her mother’s beauty evolving in her own eyes while Annabel touched on a kind of blind love one would feel for one’s own children. Will hilariously spoke about vapid ‘skin-deep’ beauty and Natasha finished the lineup telling us about once finding beauty in a religious context and how the meaning has since changed.
While some stories offered much which made me chortle, there were many moving moments too. The vulnerability of the speakers was immediately apparent and the small and snuggly seated audience were receptive and eager. The sense of appreciation made the room feel warm and inclusive. It seemed like we were on a journey discovering and celebrating our mutual sense of fragility together.
During an intermission I was in the bar queue and one of the speakers, Ju, was chatting to an audience member who was praising him on his well-delivered story. He openly asked the question about what makes something like The Moth so engaging and I had to chime in and say “it’s humanity”. That’s exactly what it felt like. In a world where we are more connected than ever by technology we have also never been more isolated, making these occasions of strangers coming together and sharing such personal aspects of themselves a rare and precious treat.
It seemed slightly odd in the spirit of things to pick a winner, but the top 3 were announced and enthusiastically applauded for their efforts. Third was Annabel, second was Ju and Will was crowned the victor.
|Champion Will with runner up Ju|
Coming together and relating an experience from our own lives connects us almost instantly and even though we are all so different, in many ways we are also just the same. The evening as a whole was absolutely delightful; uplifting, moving and belly-achingly funny too. I felt proud of my own frailty and humanity and wanted to share the sense of celebration and community that was built in those few hours.
The next event is on the 30thAugust at the Rich Mix in Bethnal Green and I’ve already bought tickets. The chosen theme is ‘Caution’ which I am a little tempted to perhaps throw my own name in the hat and tell a story of my own. Encouraged by our host who at one point said: “Find your own mic, tell your own stories”, I might just do that.