CREATIVE PEAKS: Stage Savoir-Faire

By on January 26, 2016

Renowned storytellers bring Moth Mainstage to the Center.

The Moth Mainstage makes a stop in Jackson to celebrate the power of storytelling.

The Moth Mainstage makes a stop in Jackson to celebrate the power of storytelling.

Jackson, WY – There is only one thing you have to do when you attend the Moth Mainstage: Listen.

If you can abandon expectations, forget about your cell phone, and let the stories told onstage wash over and captivate you. It can change your perspective on how you see the world.

“It can be transformative,” said Peter Aguero, who will host the Moth Mainstage, a show featuring five storytellers at the Center for the Arts on Friday.

Through the ages, around campfires and dining tables, storytelling has brought people together.

About 20 years ago, writer George Dawes Green founded the Moth. Green grew up in the South telling stories with friends on the porch. These weren’t mere conversations, but each one wove true tales, said Jennifer Hixson, a senior producer with the Moth.

A hole in the screen allowed moths to come inside and the group started calling themselves “The Moths.”

When Green moved to New York City, he missed those nights out on the porch.

“People don’t give each other that kind of space in the city,” Hixson said.

He started hosting storytelling nights at his apartment and they took off, turning into public events and eventually shaping the Moth Mainstage, which now tours the country.

“It feels like theater, except that it’s true; and because it’s true, it feels especially intimate,” Hixson said.

Each person in the cast of five tells a story onstage.

The lineup coming to Jackson includes Adam Mansbach, who wrote “Go the F**k to Sleep,” and several other books. He’ll tell a story about how writing that book changed him.

“Get ready for this one, it’s a good one,” Hixson said.

Danusia Trevino will tell a story about how jury duty changed the way she saw certain things. Dame Wilburn visited a fortuneteller who told her she was cursed. Not only did it seem to explain her life, she realized she had to take the curse into her own hands, Hixson said. Chenjerai Kumanyika is a successful musician with a rap hit.

The Moth always includes one local person in the program. Ian McGregor will share a story involving kids and wildlife.

McGregor remembers hearing older people tell stories at events when he was a young kid growing up in Jackson. As he got older those moments disappeared – he’s not sure if it’s because he started doing other things, or those people who used to gather the kids and tell the tales were gone.

He missed hearing stories until he started listening to books on tape and podcasts, like the Moth, while skiing. He’d often tell stories of his own to his friends, or whoever would listen.

Hixson heard about McGregor through a friend.

“He said ‘He’s the most gregarious bastard I’ve ever met,’” Hixson said. “And I thought, ‘Well that bodes well.’”

Hixson first saw a Moth show in 1999 in New York City. The intimacy of the show made it feel like she was watching a mix of live theater and documentary. By the end of the night she felt like she was friends with the cast, even though she hadn’t met them.

That feeling of sitting around a campfire with friends is what the show aims to create.

“It gets people sharing extraordinary moments from their life that both seem familiar and out of this world,” she said.

While the format stays the same, each show is always different, host Aguero said. Some are upbeat. Some are somber. People tell stories of triumphs and disasters.

“It’s kind of a roller coaster,” he said.

It’s meant to be a way for people to take two hours and shut out whatever they are dealing with in their own lives and just listen, he said. By simply listening, people reconnect with their own memories, but also realize how alike we all are as human beings, Aguero said.

“A lot of the stories on the surface may seem to be about significant experiences in people’s lives, and at first light they might seem totally unique to that person But stories, at their core, are about emotion. They are about truth. They are about fear, sadness, triumph or anger, or confusion, and those are things that everyone feels,” he said. “These stories take an individual experience and make it universal, and at the end of the night you feel not so alone.”

The show brings in storytellers from all walks of life and from across the country, but the Moth didn’t invent storytelling, Aguero said. There are people telling stories around the world, including in Jackson. The Moth is meant to remind people about the power of stories.

“And hopefully people will get a hunger to then hear more stories,” he said. “It’s a really great way to get connected to the people around you.”PJH

The Moth Mainstage, 7 p.m., Friday, Center Theater at the Center for the Arts, $55 to $75. jhcenterforthearts.org.

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