A brief intro: Storytelling is, of course, the oldest of arts—it's the only way most of us understand anything, science included (tectonic plates become players in epic struggles, nova'd stars become tragic figures). But somewhere along the way stories got divorced from the tellers and from their roots in talk. They became literature and poems, or were built into productions of theater or film. So the New York-based storytelling series the Moth, which arrives in PDX on Monday, Jan. 18, felt oddly new when it began in writer George Dawes Green's living room in 1997. The idea was that people, most of them nonprofessionals, should get up to a mic and tell their best true stories, unscripted and unmemorized, in their own voices. There is a hypnotic quality to stories told by those to whom they have actually happened, a feeling of connection that's marred by professionalized performance.
What many of the Moth's tellers now nonetheless are: Professionalized Moth performers.
Whether this is good: Sometimes. Perhaps. It squeezes the bell curve tight, I suppose.
Partial list of people who have told stories at the Moth: Malcolm Gladwell, Dominick Dunne, a neurosurgeon, a fifth-grader, DMC (of Run fame), irritating comedians, Ethan Hawke, George Plimpton, Dan Savage, a bank robber, a baton twirler, Moby, a graveyard orderly and a voodoo priestess.
Who will tell stories this coming Monday: A forcibly retired gay Army lieutenant, Oregon Cultural Trust's manager, a Russian computer geek, and a Seattle writer/actress among others.
Minutes storytellers are allowed: Ten, after which violins play.
Amount of coaching storytellers receive: Enough so they don't embarrass themselves and make the audience uncomfortable.
Places the Moth now has outposts: New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles.
Why the Moth sounds familiar to PDXers: Portland's Back Fence series has been doing pretty much the same thing (with debts to the Moth), quite admirably, for three-ish years.
What Moth founder Green thinks a story has to have, in order to be interesting: "A little bit of hopelessness."
What the Portland show is: Sold out.
Where to hear stories if you don't already have a ticket to the show: Via the widely popular podcast at themoth.org/podcast.
The Moth on the Road will be performed at the Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-0370. Monday, Jan. 18. 6:30 pm. $25. SOLD OUT.