Storytelling event showcases people, not performers

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On Monday evening, Zellerbach Hall began to fill with people. They didn’t come for a ballet or a symphony; they came to hear honest, heartfelt stories. The Big Bang: The Moth at the Bay Area Science Festival, an event put on by the nonprofit organization The Moth, showcased stories of parenting, coming out, doing what you love and questioning what you believe in.

The Moth provides an arena for storytelling around the country, finding people — not necessarily performers — who will reveal their inner selves onstage to complete strangers. These storytellers are not allowed notes, and they are given a time limit. Their stories are recorded and distributed to radio stations nationwide, and the podcast is downloaded more than 15 million times per year.

The lights dimmed, and violinist Alisa Rose stood alone on the stage with her violin and played a tune familiar to listeners of The Moth. Host Dan Kennedy began the show with a narrative of his own, detailing a trip he took to Indonesia to write about scientists searching for a 22-foot python.

The first storyteller of the night, Gil D. Reyes, shared how growing up in Kentucky, battling with failing kidneys and facing his parents’ rejection of his sexual orientation left a gap in his confidence and willingness to be loved. He told the audience about his decision to accept a kidney from his partner and had the audience laughing as he described how he would tell friends the two were “having a kidney” as they played “pin the kidney on Gil” at their kidney shower. The scar on his abdomen serves as a permanent reminder of the people who love him.

Storytellers share parts of themselves on the stage as a release of the past, and through their tales, the audience catches  glimpses of different worlds. Christof Koch discussed coming to terms with his belief in both science and Catholicism through his friendship with Francis Crick, a scientist who, along with James Watson, is famous for the discovery of the structure of DNA. Annie Korzen spoke about letting go of her grown-up son, and Holly Hughes shared how she was denied federal funding for an art project as a result of her sexual orientation. Whether listeners personally connected with these stories or not, merely being exposed to foreign experiences allowed people to think more dynamically.

Adam Savage, known for co-hosting the television show “Mythbusters,” shared his challenges as a parent trying to pass values to his children, who are constantly exposed to outside influences. When his 12-year-old twins discovered Internet porn, he initially played “bad cop,” which only perpetuated their curiosity. Later, he told his son that “the Internet hates women,” and that he needs to keep this in mind as he grows up in a world with so much negativity.

In this constantly moving society, The Moth provides an outlet for people to stop and just listen. By creating a space solely for storytelling, audience members allow their minds to escape to a different world, to think critically, to laugh and to be moved.

Contact Anya Schultz at [email protected].