The Moth StorySLAM
Staving off zombies
by Stephanie Douglass
If you're eager to hear or share a compelling story, the monthly Ann Arbor Moth StorySLAM at the Circus bar invites you to participate in an evening of "True Stories Told Live," the motto of the NYC-based nonprofit behind the now nationwide series. The event's popularity, both here and elsewhere, suggests it's more than just a competition or, in our case, a thing to do on a Tuesday night. These genuine, everyday stories are vital and necessary because they represent, according to local StorySLAM host Steve Amick, a "last bastion" against pop culture's unending barrage of zombies and vampires. So, all those fatigued from staving off the undead, take heart: if storytelling's a sort of cultural fortress, then ours is a community skillfully and wittily defended by a diverse group of raconteurs.
The StorySLAM takes place in a lighthearted and casual atmosphere (created in part by Circus Bar's big-top decorations) and is governed by a few loose ground rules. All stories must be real, not fiction, and related to the given theme. Also, every story must be, well, a story. "Something has to happen," Amick explains; there must be a conflict and resolution. These guidelines are enforced by an amiable, if not tipsy, group of audience members serving as judges, who are allowed to deduct points from a storyteller's top score of 10 for any violations. In the case of one recent story that seemed more fantasy than reality, though, the judges meted out only a soft penalty. Indeed, the competition seems to be less about winning than it is about encouraging folks to share interesting bits of their lives.
If you've attended a live StorySLAM or listened to the show on public radio, you've heard a range of Moth stories and know that each is unique in tone, content, and delivery. This kind of storytelling is a genre with fuzzy boundaries, existing somewhere between dinner-table conversation and parable and frequently claiming the stand-up comic's territory of a
It's difficult to say exactly what makes a winning story, beyond some inscrutable combination of construction, the storyteller's personality, and other circumstances, such as when during the evening a storyteller is picked to share her story. Of two recent StorySLAM winners, one humorously recounted a series of jobs she held that lacked integrity, including one under a "crazy drunk" boss who loudly accosted Michael Dell, of Dell Inc., at a formal gala. Another month's winner told comically how he spectacularly botched a swimming race and nearly drowned. Not all the stories are funny, though, nor need be. Part of the evening's fun and surprise arises from the variety of its offerings.
The theme of the May 15 StorySLAM is "decadence."
[Originally published in May, 2012.]