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Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Jul 11, 2016

Dispatch from St. Paul

by Jamie Goodin

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Storytellers welcome at The Moth StorySLAM in St. Paul. Photo by Jamie Goodin.

The Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul is normally used for live music, amazing french fries, and IPA-fueled revelry - at least until the Moth gets its hands on the place. On the last Wednesday of every month, the venue is transformed into a space of storytelling, connection, and powerful relatability.

The Moth is famed for inducing this kind of metamorphosis. People come from all over the Twin Cities for the night of stories, the brief respite from daily routine. Since beginning to volunteer as social media coordinator for The Moth in the Twin Cities last February, I’ve often spoken to attendees to try and get a sense for what motivates people to get off their butts and listen to strangers recount memorable moments in their lives.

“The Moth allows me to bear witness to a distinct sincerity that can be hard to find on a college campus.”

The responses have been varied. Some people want to be entertained, unable to resist a great story. A few have told me that it gives them a sense of unity in the human experience, that it makes them feel that we’re “not so different after all.” It’s a bit cliche, but I can’t help but find myself agreeing with the sentiment. The connections in the air feel almost tangible.

The Moth allows me to bear witness to a distinct sincerity that can be hard to find on a college campus where the name of the game is trying hard to make it look like you don’t give a damn. Those brave enough to get on stage and share their experiences with the audience almost never posture. Their words are often poignant, confessional, brutally honest, lacking a shell of irony. Even when a story borders on standup, it’s at its core meaningful. 

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A storyteller is introduced by host Mike Fotis. Photo by Jamie Goodin.

While the storytellers are integral, the show couldn’t be put on without its dynamite hosts. There are two regular hosts for The Moth in the Cities: Mike Fotis, a comedian and improv actor, and Javier Morillo-Alicea, an activist and union leader. They’ve got different styles - Mike is boisterous and peppers his mic time with self-deprecating jokes while Javier opts for telling stories of his own. But they both stand as immaculate examples of what great hosts can and should be. They relentlessly keep the audience engaged, do everything they can to make the storytellers, and even score some laughs along the way. It’s honestly admirable, and I come away each month hoping I’ll be capable of that one day.

And we ought not forget those behind the scenes. John Peters, the sound technician for the Moth in the Twin Cities, recently recorded his 400th story since coming on board in 2013. He remembers the days when the Moth would only be allotted a portion of the Amsterdam. The bar owner wasn’t confident people would come. These days, the Moth packs the entire venue.

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Host Javier Morillo keeps the audience engaged. Photo by Jamie Goodin.

The theme of last month’s show was “Fathers”. Its broad nature lent itself to the night featuring a wide range of stories. There were tales of dads convincing people not to go to war, fathers never known, papas who hand out bread on Halloween because they think it’s hilarious. Storytellers recounted mending relationships and subconsciously adopting their father’s absurd mannerisms.

The night stood out to me as a terrific reminder of why I get behind on schoolwork to help out at the Moth every month. Even if it’s just one, there’s a narrative that resonates with everybody - a story that makes you reconsider a past event, or a story that helps you plan out a future decision. We are all perpetually trying to figure things out; the Moth makes it a little easier

• • • 

Jamie Goodin is a native New Yorker and a rising senior at Macalester College. When he's not helping run the Moth virtually or in person, he can be found writing, studying rocks, and following competitive Smash Bros. Follow him on twitter @falconkick.

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