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the lesson of The Moth

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Katie Rinaldi/Used with permission
Yes, technically the above title is grammatically incorrect. And, depending on your level of education and OCD, you might have a hard time getting past it and on to the rest of this piece. But that’s OK, we’re all a little different, and LA’s The Moth seeks to embrace that fact, while finding the linking commonalities in us all.For the record, the title is a reference to the 1927 Don Marquis poem ‘the lesson of the moth’, which contains no punctuation or capitalization because Marquis swore it was penned by an anthropomorphic cockroach named archy who couldn’t hit the shift and letter keys simultaneously. In the poem, archy discusses a moth friend of his who decides to ‘immolate himself on a patent cigar lighter’ in order to be completely surrounded by the beauty of fire, if only for a moment. And LA’s bi-monthly storytelling series The Moth really isn’t that much different. Held at various venues around town - upcoming events include El Cid and Venice’s Air Conditioned Supper Club - each show has a theme, and anyone brave enough to show up and put their name in the running could find themselves onstage espousing their take on said theme. There’s something dangerous, fleeting, burning, and ultimately rewarding about the whole experience. Even if it only lasts a moment.

Originally started over a decade ago in New York City, The Moth is the brainchild of George Dawes Green, who found himself searching for a compelling night of storytelling that just wasn’t there; so he created it. And the title of these shows, The Moth, is a direct connection to the way that poor archy’s friend felt: the stories being told on stage often find the teller in dangerous proximity to a light of knowledge that, even though burning when touched, can not ultimately be escaped. The shows have since grown in popularity and destination, with Moth StorySLAMs in Chicago, Detroit, and currently in it’s second year in Los Angeles. And while not as popular, perhaps, as the New York City SLAMs, or received by as many noted folks, there is still the same basic struggle to be heard and understood, sometimes to be funny and always to be redemptive.

Last Tuesday, The Moth held it’s annual LA GrandSLAM, which combines the best of the best from previous Moth StorySLAM winners and brings them together for one night and one theme, to determine LA’s best storyteller. The theme of the night was Transformations and featured writers, stay at home mothers, voice actors and teachers, with intermission accompaniment by a man playing the Theremin. Kickass. The stories themselves ranged from the bizarre to the slightly grotesque and on into heartbreaking and (surprisingly) motivating. If you listen to The Moth podcast already -and you should-, you quickly notice that the New York StorySLAMs tend to run a little deeper and more emotional than their funny and light-hearted West Coast counterparts. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the moving stories heard at The Echoplex on Tuesday night. In fact, the night’s winner, Vikki Kelleher, offered up an outstandingly funny tale about her father passing away that left much of the audience with tears in their eyes, unsure of where in the Id they originated. As a result of her stunning storytelling, Vikki gets to head to New York’s annual Moth Ball benefit, hosted by Garrison Keillor.

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Which brings us back to archy, Marquis’ comedic cockroach with a love of the written word. Because in as much as ‘the lesson of the moth’ is about immolation and beauty, it’s also an explorative tale on archy himself. Perhaps he is not willing to run headlong into a burning flame, but you cannot deny the insect’s internal passion, as he slaves away all night, pounding out individual letters on a keyboard so that he can be understood. And because, as one being, he is too small to manage it all himself, he understands that there is no backspace, no do over. There isn’t even any punctuation, because ultimately his stories are one big story, they never end. But you can always take a moment, an important slice, and commit to paper or entrench it in your mind long enough to then place out in front of the world and say ‘this, this is part of what I am’ , and be happy enough with that. This is the greatest lesson of The Moth.

Upcoming LA Moth StorySLAMs
Theme: Firsts
at El Cid
, October 20th
4213 Sunset Boulevard
, Los Feliz
7.00pm Doors open

7.30pm Stories start on stage

Theme: Disguises

at Air Conditioned Supper Club
, October 26th
625 Lincoln Boulevard, 
Venice
7.00pm Doors open

7.30pm Stories start on stage