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My enriching ‘Moth’ experience

January 31, 2019

When Jane Green — best-selling author, casual acquaintance, and very cool woman — emailed last fall, inviting me to be one of the storytellers when “The Moth” came to town for a January show, I quickly agreed.

I love “The Moth,” that quirky NPR show with an intriguing mix of “real people” telling slice-of-their-life stories. The segments can be funny, sad, crazy, intimate, heavy, light. Each, however, is compelling.

Hey, I thought, I tell stories for a living (well, I write them, anyway). How hard is it to stand on stage and talk about one?

Very.

Jane caught me while I was multitasking. When I said yes, I had not thought about certain things. I did not realize that I do not listen to “The Moth” alone. It’s heard on over 475 radio stations. The podcast is downloaded over 52 million times a year.

I figured I would be one of several Westport storytellers. Jane did not explain — and I did not think to ask — that this was a national Moth event. She and I (I learned much later) would be joined by three other “pros,” from across the country. Then I learned that I would be the only one of the five who had never done a Moth show before.

Then there was the small matter of material. I would have to find a story to tell. It would have to be funny, sad, crazy, intimate, heavy or light — preferably, all of the above. I would have to tell it in no more than 12 minutes.

Without notes.

Oh yeah, and “The Moth” would be performed at the Westport Country Playhouse. To the other three storytellers, that meant nothing. To me, it meant I’d stand on the stage of a theater I’ve attended since I was a child. I’d follow in the literal footsteps of Tallulah Bankhead, Henry Fonda, James Earl Jones, Eva Gabor, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Be careful what you wish for.

So, without knowing or thinking about any of this, I told Jane “Sure!” Then I did the next logical thing: I forgot about it.

But time moves quickly when you’ve done something rash. Soon enough, a Moth person called. “So what’s your story about?” she asked perkily.

“I’m working on it,” I replied perkily and falsely. But “The Moth” — which, I should mention, is a worldwide nonprofit, with spinoffs including storytelling workshops for high school students, adults and corporate clients — knows what it’s doing. The image I had of picking a topic, strolling on stage, telling a story and sitting down to either thunderous applause or dumbfounded silence bore as much resemblance to reality as Donald Trump does to truth.

Thankfully, “The Moth” is a well-honed machine. I had the good fortune to work with Meg Bowles. She helped me pick a topic. I honed in on my experiences as a high school soccer coach. In the span of one brief season, several players’ fathers died, or were diagnosed with terminal illnesses. It was a tragic time, but the experience drew everyone together in unexpected ways. We battled all the way to the state finals; the game went to (ironically) “sudden death” overtime, when ... well, that’s all part of the story.

Meg held my hand through the preparation and rehearsal process. She listened to my story way too many times. She gave advice on where to tighten, and where to add details. Gently but persistently, she forced me to add more of “me” to the tale. “This isn’t about your players,” she would say. “I want to hear how you felt then.” She helped me change one word here, the order of two sentences there.

Slowly, it all came together. I came to rely on Meg’s phone calls the way a drowning man relies on a life preserver. She does not know it, but she held my figurative hand throughout a very intimidating process.

It was intimidating too to meet — the day before the show — my fellow storytellers. Jane and I were joined by a Shawnee Native American, a black woman searching for her enslaved ancestors, and a Holocaust survivor from Lithuania. We rehearsed for a couple of hours. I honed my story more.

Then we went out to a wonderful dinner, and bonded the same way my soccer players did when somehow, I made it up on the Playhouse stage. Somehow, I told my story. Thankfully, the audience laughed and cried at all the right spots. Their energy drew me in. My Moth experience turned out to be incredibly exciting, empowering and enriching.

Thanks, Jane, for inviting me. I’m glad I did not think through my response before blurting out “yes.”

And now I have another story to tell.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.

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