On June 7th, 1997, George Dawes Green invited a small group of people to his home in New York City for the first Moth night. Pegi Vail, a founding member of The Moth’s board, remembers below:
I’ll never forget when my friend George Green said to me, “I have this idea I want to tell you about and I want you to do this with me” at our mutual friend Roland Legiardi-Laura’s loft during one of Roland’s regular ‘Salons’ in 1995 or ’96. As I would later write in many appeal letters over the next couple of years to invite storytellers like Frank McCourt or Albert Maysles, both of whom were among our first ‘celebrated’ artists to tell stories at The Moth: “It grew out of the writer George Dawes Green’s desire to find public venues to simply ‘tell stories’ different from more traditional or folkloric “storytelling” events.” What a great idea! I still can’t believe how The Moth continues to grow year by year, evidencing the power of this vision.
George had enlisted a few of us to get involved in the Moth’s formation: myself, Judy Stone, and Sheri Holman were the first board members and officers for our non-profit organization, The Moth. Soon after, others joined the board, including my husband Melvin Estrella. We were also curators and storytellers for a number of the early shows during the first 5 years of The Moth (although it took me that long after curating lots of shows to get my own courage up to tell a story at the Museum of Natural History for “Stories on Coming Home” in 2001!). Prior to that first event in George’s loft in June 1997, we had a couple of creative directors before Joey Xanders finally came on. There was also plenty of inspired discussion going on as to the how we should proceed, what The Moth was, and where we would be doing our events.
I’m a cultural anthropologist, so I saved some of these emails and letters of these discussions, along with a video of that first Moth show. One emailed suggestion to our small group in Feb. 1997 asked if we should:
“think of [The Moth] as a performance space”
to which I responded:
“I think we could end up with the same focus as umpteen other spaces by honing in on the idea of ‘performance’ rather than what it is…. We should, I believe, stick with ONE idea about it… It is for STORIES -not ‘performed’ stories, or ‘read’ stories…”
And I think The Moth’s focus on stories and stories alone so many years later is still the draw. As George put it once, “it’s just you and your story up there” on that stage. And I’m still wowed by all the stories at every Moth I go to today. It continues to enrich my life – along with thousands of people around the world now! Happy Anniversary!
Pegi Vail is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker. She’s a member of the founding board at The Moth, recipient of the first Wanda Bullard Award, and currently serves on the Moth’s general council and curatorial committee. She’s also the Associate Director of the Center for Media, Culture and History at NYU and teaches on film, culture and tourism at NYU and Columbia University. Her current documentary project Gringo Trails, looks at the longterm impact of tourism on the developing world through travelers’ most important souvenirs…their stories.