Storytelling moths flutter into Whitehorse

'The best entertainment has an element of storytelling in it," says Michele Royle, finally hitting upon the one thing that has made the MothUp movement such an international success.

‘The best entertainment has an element of storytelling in it,” says Michele Royle, finally hitting upon the one thing that has made the Moth movement such an international success.

“This is an opportunity for us to gather and enjoy each other as entertainment.”

The Moth was inspired by a porch in Georgia, where the moths crept in through a hole in the screen to gather “up” around the porch light while good friends told stories below. To re-create the magic of storytelling at its purest an event was later founded in New York City in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green.

The Moth, a non-profit organization, encourages community members to gather and just tell stories, based on themes, for no more than five minutes.

With 15,000 events in the US last year, it is just now appearing in Canada, with groups in Montreal, Toronto and now Whitehorse.

“Doesn’t that make us sound cosmopolitan,” asks Royle, the co-chair of Whitehorse’s MothUp Magpie Chatter chapter.

It was Harreson Tanner who created a local MothUp in Whitehorse: “When Pat and our daughter were going through Toronto, our friends said there is this really cool thing going on,” says the Yukon Artists at Work member.

“It was at a little nightclub in Little Italy in downtown Toronto. We thought it was a pub thing, but it was a really smart businessman who had a backroom he used for special events.

“Part of MothUp is that it has to be free, so he donated the use of the room to these two women.

“And that was their inaugural night and only the second time it happened in Canada.

“The panic for the women was having enough speakers. Yet we listened to five speakers and they were really hilarious while some stories were absolutely gut-wrenching, tear-jerking.

“At the break, the two women went around the room and said, ‘Does anyone here have a story that is about the topic, Good Intentions?’

“After much coercion … at least 10 or 15 seconds … I said, ‘Absolutely, I’ll get up,’” says Tanner.

He broke into a story about being 16 and siphoning gasoline with his mother’s vacuum cleaner.

“It was such an amazing event,” he adds. “We watched some people bare their souls; it was like they’ve been waiting for the moment to tell their stories.”

“That’s the neat thing,” says Royle. “We can get a nice mix: stories told for the fun of it can touch our hearts in a different way.”

“And these were not professional storytellers,” says Tanner.

“They were just people who had really important things to say and they wanted to be heard.

“It was fantastic.”

As for that businessman, his donation of the room turned a “dozy Tuesday night” into a Saturday-like business opportunity.

“And now it has grown after just four months,” says Tanner. “He’s put speakers in the main bar because they had 120 people at the last event.

“It’s pretty cool.”

“We started out pretty small,” says Royle, of Whitehorse’s first MothUp last month.

“Yeah, we have a thing for blizzards,” Tanner adds. “On our inaugural night, nine hardy souls came out.”

Royle, who was sick that week, was not one of them. And there was a couple, who had been listening to the international Moth podcasts for two years, who were too sick to attend, as well.

Those who did attend, however, enjoyed an experience that had them backslapping each other afterwards.

Chairs had been set up in the Yukon Artists at Work gallery on Industrial Road; participants brought snacks and wine and they listened to each other tell their stories.

The theme was Return, so Al Cushing told a story of forgetting his new laptop in a big-city taxi; and John Boivin told a story of the farm he grew up on and how the area decayed and was parcelled out over the years.

Tanner’s wife, Patricia Fortier, told the story of spreading the ashes of her mother and father.

“These are raw stories about people’s lives,” says Tanner. “It was very touching.”

Just hearing these stories, the audience members leaned forward in their seats, wanting to blurt out their own.

One woman, who had told them she was only observing that night, ended up telling her own story. So did the man who filmed the stories for submission to www.themoth.org (each storyteller must sign a release, says Royle).

“I think (storytelling) is a very therapeutic thing and human beings love to be together,” says Tanner.

“Being solitary is not a normal condition; people need to get their stories out and this gives them a vehicle.”

“And we can laugh together,” adds Royle.

“And cry together,” says Tanner.

“And celebrate successes and inspire each other and mourn together and realize how similar everybody’s experiences can be.”

Tanner is reminded of his first MothUp, in Toronto, where three women talked about the cancer they had each battled: “It was obviously something they had to talk about, yet they felt comfortable enough in a room of 40 people, which is amazing to me.”

Since MothUp chapters are not allowed to advertise – relying on word-of-mouth, instead – Tanner and Royle have set up a Facebook page. To find out when and where the next MothUp will be, people are asked to just type “MothUp” and “Magpie” into the search engine at www.facebook.com.

“This is meant to be organic and spontaneous and as informal as it can be,” Royle says.

How does someone join?

“Just show up,” says Tanner and Royle in unison.

The next MothUp is Friday, October 22, at Yukon Artists @ Work. The theme is Focus.

“Focussed or focus?” Tanner asks Royle.

“Oh, let’s make it Focus so that it can be extrapolated,” says Royle. “It can be focusing through a camera or focusing on a goal.”

The rules are simple: it must be a story about the storyteller, no notes and no props.

Just stories.

Darrell Hookey is a

Whitehorse-based freelance writer.

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