This Saturday, August 5, at 7:30 pm, one of the most captivating platforms for storytelling returns to Martha’s Vineyard. “The Moth Mainstage” is coming to the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, and this year’s theme is “Twist of Fate.”
Five speakers will tell five true stories pertinent to their lives. Cynthia Riggs and Ted Hoagland are the two local storytellers, and Suzi Afridi, Phyllis Bowdwin, and David Montgomery are three others, from New York and Los Angeles.
“It’s always a balance of humor and heart,” said Meg Bowles, senior producer and co-host of the “Moth Radio Hour.”
Ms. Bowles has been part of “The Moth” since the beginning. It started in 1997, when novelist and poet George Dawes Green hosted storytelling events behind old delis down dark alleys in the Lower East Side of New York City. He invited Ms. Bowles to help, and she’s been inspired by the work ever since.
“There’s an energy about bearing witness to someone else’s story,” Ms. Bowles said. “So I
started helping George find speakers. But this was before storytelling even became a thing. People would ask, What do you mean? Like the ‘Three Little Pigs’?”
“The Moth Mainstage” first came to the Vineyard in 2012. “We love the Vineyard,” Ms. Bowles said. “It’s like coming home.”
The first-ever “Moth Radio Hour” was produced by Jay Alliston and Viki Merrick of Woods Hole’s WCAI in 2009. “The Martha’s Vineyard community has supported us since the beginning; it’s one of our best audiences,” Ms. Bowles said.
According to Ms. Bowles, finding speakers for “The Moth Mainstage” is a process. Sometimes the people call her, sometimes she calls the people. “Since coming to the Vineyard in 2012, I started to meet a lot of locals. They’re always recommending people I should talk to,” she said.
That’s how Ms. Bowles got introduced to author and Island resident Ted Hoagland. Islander Cynthia Riggs will return to “The Mainstage.” She told the first part of her story in 2012, which stole the hearts of many. It’s a tale of long-lost love, and the rekindling of a romance after 50 years. Ms. Bowles invited Ms. Riggs back to the stage this summer to tell part two of the love story.
“It was the first time I had performed like that,” Ms. Riggs said of her first “Moth” experience. “I’ve spoken to audiences of 40 or 50 people, but at ‘The Moth’ you’re talking to hundreds of people, and it’s an entirely different experience.”
Part of that experience is the aura of a “Moth” audience. People are there to not only listen to your story, but to feel it. “I’ll get up there and I know I’ll be nervous,” Ms. Riggs said. “But the amount of support
pounding out from the audience cushions you like a cloud, and you can’t go wrong.”
There are two requirements for “Moth Mainstage” speakers — their stories must be true, and they must be off-script. But there’s a process of preparation. Ms. Bowles works with the speaker over the phone, listens to them practice, and offers feedback. She encourages stories to not be overly memorized, be between 10 and 12 minutes, and that speakers remember the memories, rather than the words. There’s always one onstage rehearsal before the live show.
“Stories trigger emotion,” Ms. Bowles said, “This way speakers can feel where it hits them, so the first time it happens isn’t in front of 2,000 people.”
“The Moth” now hosts live storytelling events in countries all over the world. It’s popped up in cities in Australia, the U.K., France, and Africa.
New York City’s Tara Clancy will host this year’s show at the Tabernacle. Ms. Clancy just published a book, and people have recently began seeking her out for various TV and movie castings. “She’s one of those people you’ll start to hear from,” Ms. Bowles said.
“The Moth Mainstage” at the Tabernacle begins at 7:30 pm on Saturday, August 5. Doors open at 6:30 pm, and tickets will be sold ahead of time and at the door. For more information, visit themoth.org.