Storytelling in Southampton

Posted on 16 July 2014

Wendy Suzuki

Wendy Suzuki performing with The Moth in May.

By Mara Certic

In a world in which technology seems to be taking over, entertainment often becomes interactive and distracting, desperately trying to grip the ADD generation with graphics and fanfare. But for over 15 years, a group of writers, scientists, criminals, musicians, thinkers and average Joes have come together under the guise of “The Moth” to provide the public with something raw: a simple story.

As the story goes, writer and poet George Dawes Green spent the summer evenings of his youth sitting on his porch, telling stories with his friends, as moths would flock through a hole in the screen door toward a nearby light. This group of friends began calling themselves The Moths and many years later, Mr. Dawes Green started “The Moth” in New York City in an attempt to recreate the low-key nights he spent in his native Georgia. Since then, it has become a nonprofit group dedicated solely to the art of storytelling. “The Moth” offers a weekly podcast and a radio show and has heard stories from speakers as diverse a bunch as The Moldy Peaches’ Kimya Dawson, Garrison Keillor, Ethan Hawke and Salmon Rushdie.

Originally based out of New York City, “The Moth” now runs over a dozen storytelling programs throughout the United States and for the very first time this week, it will come to the East End. On Friday, July 18, as a part of the Southampton Writers Conference at Stony Brook University, writer Adam Gopnik will host an evening of five storytellers from “The Moth” with very different backgrounds.

The theme for each story is the same: “fish out of water.” Friday’s five fish-out-of-water range in profession from a fashion commentator to a neuroscientist, with writers and performers punctuating the night of first-person stories.

Special Projects Coordinator for Stony Brook Southampton Kathie Russo has been involved with “The Moth” ever since it began. She was married to writer and actor Spalding Gray who told one of the very first stories for “The Moth.” She previously worked as a booking agent, where she helped get the storytellers their first gig on the West Coast. Since her husband’s death, she has told her very own Moth story, which she described as “daunting.”

“And I told a very short story,” she said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for these people to tell an 11-minute story [without notes].”

It is that process that differentiates the oral tradition from the written word, according to Moth member and journalist Ted Conover. “You have to open up this direct channel from your brain to your mouth. It’s intense and it is cathartic,” he said in a phone interview on Monday. “It’s a cool thing for a writer to get to do.”

Mr. Conover has a wealth of tales from his many inquiries into worlds unknown. When he was still in college he traveled on freight trains around the country to learn about the last remaining hobos. Years later, Mr. Conover spent a year working as a Corrections Officer at Sing-Sing Prison to get some insight into a very unfamiliar and undocumented life.

“It’s not just any story I want to tell. I’m especially interested in stories that need to be told and aren’t easy to tell if you’re from a different world. Prison is an example of that. Prison is full of stories that don’t get told,” he said.

“I like putting myself in these difficult situations and learning about them firsthand. This is something I did long before I ever heard of ‘The Moth.’ ‘The Moth’ is really great because it gives the writer a chance to tell the story in a different way.”

“We’re trained not to tell stories this way in science,” said Wendy Suzuki who told her first story with “The Moth” earlier this year. “I’m a neuroscientist who studies the neurobiology of memory,” she said. “And the story’s about my dad, who developed dementia and how I deal with that.”

Ms. Suzuki’s story talks about the difficulty and frustration she felt, being an expert in a disease that still has no cure. “I know how it works,” she said. “But there’s nothing I can do to cure it.”

Of “The Moth,” she said, “it was a great experience. It’s very emotional, but it feels very releasing to be able to share that.”

“The Moth” “brings storytelling back to the forefront,” Ms. Russo said, “which is where it should be.”

The evening is sure to entertain technophiles and luddites alike. As Ms. Russo said: “It’s nice to just be still and listen to a story.”

“The Moth” will take place at Stony Brook Southampton’s Avram Theater, starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at themoth.org.

 

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