Quite by accident, Joshua Wolf Shenk and I came up with the most convincing reason you should see The Moth when the beloved storytelling series lands at Artemus Ham Hall on November 14. I suggested to the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute’s executive director that the magnitude of this event—a huge cultural get for Vegas—is comparable to “Radiohead coming to town.”
Shenk laughs. “My name is Josh Shenk, and I endorse that metaphor,” he says. But the reason he’s cosigning isn’t because The Moth is a big-deal event (which it is) or because BMI is the show’s presenting sponsor, but because the experiences of seeing a live band and of hearing a true story told in a theater setting aren’t all that dissimilar. They’re both occasions that are transformed by you actually being there.
“The stories create the environment, and the environment creates the stories,” he says. Like at a concert, where “your humanity, which is usually tamped down, gets to come out and dance,” there’s something about live storytelling that provokes an “emotional, intellectual melting” in the listener. Audiences lean in when the storyteller tells a secret, sit in shocked silence when the story takes a bad turn and whoop like cheerleaders when something comes off as funny or empowering. And storytellers use that energy to shape their tales. That entire dimension is missing when you hear The Moth in podcast or radio form.
“It’s a combination of theater direction, of literary editing … and psychotherapy,” Shenk says, chuckling. (And for those of us who have sorely missed Las Vegas’ native storytelling series, The Tell, since it went on hiatus several years ago, the coming of The Moth is a much-needed dose of storytelling Prozac.)
Scheduled to appear at The Moth Mainstage are Ruby Cooper, a teacher, parent, world traveler and author; Vikram Krishnasamy, a physician and “disease detective” from Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, a journalist, artist and instructor at Rutgers; and in a rare local speaking appearance, magician and professional skeptic Teller. (Hearing Teller speak is worth the price of admission all by itself; he’s superlatively funny and engaging, with a searching mind like few others you’ve encountered.) And Shenk raves about Moth host Dan Kennedy, saying he has the chops of a stand-up comic.
But what makes these people unique to The Moth isn’t what they do for a living. It’s the “stories of known awesomeness” they’re going to tell—and how you’re going to react to those stories when you’re in the same room with them.
“At Moth shows there’s an environment of compassion, of warmth, of curiosity,” Shenk says. “It’s an incredible thing.”
THE MOTH MAINSTAGE November 14, 7:30 p.m., $15. Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall at UNLV, 702-895-3011.