By Samantha Spoto
Photo courtesy of Martin Hearn.
“This is it, I’ll never see you again,” read Leigh, her face pressed closely to a microphone onstage at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in SoHo last Thursday. She was one of 10 people competing in The Moth StorySLAM.
Held weekly in New York City, Moth StorySLAMs call on storyteller hopefuls to share a five-minute, non-fiction piece on a specific theme chosen for the night. As writers entered into the venue, they placed a copy of their work in a bag and patiently waited to hear if they would be among the talented competitors to perform a story on the topic of distance.
The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, which often houses the storytelling event, is unique in that all of the merchandise located within the store is donated. In addition, practically everyone staffed at Housing Works is a volunteer. All of the profits get redistributed into Housing Works, a “healing community” that battles homelessness and AIDS.
One after the other, storytellers engaged the audience with captivating yet concise accounts. All the while, teams of audience members judged the 10 featured stories, granting them a score from one to 10 to decide the fate of a single winner.
Leigh performed first. Listeners held back tears as she recounted a story about her relationship with her aging grandfather in New Jersey while she lived across the globe in Cambodia.
Another competitor, David, told of the challenges he faced in childhood due to his speech impediment. The progress he made in his verbal communication allowed him to take the stage for this Moth event and express his experience.
Competitors like Steve and Joe chose a more comedic direction. Steve spoke of evading the police in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert, where he sold hits to other Dead Heads. Joe, the winner of the night’s SLAM, narrated a particular instance when he traveled back and forth several times in a single night from Manhattan to Staten Island because he left the keys to his apartment and his already overdue VHS tapes at his girlfriend’s house.
Joe will continue on to the GrandSLAM Championships, a competition that features the 10 best storytellers from previous MothSLAM events, that will take place at a future date.
In the meantime, other storytellers will have the opportunity to take the stage at upcoming New York City sessions throughout the summer months.