The Moth storytelling group brings its Pop Up Porch Tour to Atlanta this week

To mark its 25th year of live storytelling events where everyday people take to the stage with true, unscripted tales from their lives, The Moth returns to its Georgia roots by bringing its Pop Up Porch Tour to Atlanta, Wednesday through Sunday.

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The nationwide storytelling group got its start in New York in 1997 after Georgia native George Dawes Green, a novelist, began to hold storytelling events in his apartment. He was inspired by the feeling he’d get from gathering friends and sharing on a porch in St. Simons Island. It was named “The Moth” in honor of the bugs attracted by the porchlight.

“George moved to New York and felt like no one ever listened to each other,” said Jennifer Birmingham, managing director of programs for The Moth, in a phone interview. “He started a storytelling salon in his living room with the basic rules. Everybody’s going to have five minutes. Everybody’s going to listen. No one will interrupt. No one will then say, ‘Oh, that happened to me,’ and start on their own story train. It’s really nice when you go to a storytelling event and have a designated role as audience. You can put down that impulse and just listen.”

Since its inception, The Moth has grown significantly, holding more than 6,000 live events worldwide. Its stories are featured on a weekly podcast, and more than 570 public radio stations broadcast the Peabody Award-winning show The Moth Radio Hour each week.

The Pop Up Porch Tour is literally bringing an extended, open porch, attached to a tiny house, to Ponce City Market beginning at 11 a.m. Visitors can stop by the site and meet storytelling professionals and coaches, receiving free advice on how to craft and pitch their own stories to the organization. Also there, they can listen to stories from The Moth archive and take part in workshops.

Credit: Phil Clarkin

Credit: Phil Clarkin

“We specifically built the house to teach people storytelling and to encourage people to listen to more stories,” Birmingham said. “So when you come to the house, one entire side of the house opens. We purposefully did that. We wanted people to feel very welcome to walk in, to be able to see from the street what it is, so they didn’t have to be nervous about what they’d find when they got in there. You can see the whole thing, right from the porch.”

Birmingham said the story coaches are trained to gently encourage people to share their voices and their experiences.

“In our storytelling workshops, we really have to work at not sharing in response,” she said. “Instead, we really respond to someone specifically about their story: what resonated, what scene they particularly built well. We stay focused on the storyteller.”

She understands that some of the best stories come from people who are reluctant to share onstage. The goal of the Pop Up Porch is to help and encourage people.

“We’ll listen, take notes and ask questions,” she said. “And then we’ll help them map it into a story map, literally. Once you do that, you can see where an audience needs more information to stay with you and your story. Or you can see where you don’t need as much information and trim that back. By the end, people generally have a full story arc, and they’re ready to go (for the StorySLAM).”

Credit: Phil Clarkin

Credit: Phil Clarkin

The traveling installation began in September. It has made stops in Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama on its way to Atlanta.

As part of the week’s events, The Moth Atlanta will hold its October open mic StorySLAM at 7 Stages in Little Five Points on Thursday at 7 p.m., hosted by poet and storyteller Jon Goode and produced by Meredith Williams. The show’s theme is “Crossroads.”

Some tickets for that event will be given away at the Pop Up Porch, Birmingham said. Some storytellers who train at the porch may be encouraged to take the stage at the slam.

Monthly Moth StorySLAM events — where people participate in an open mic and tell true, five-minute stories without notes based upon a theme — have taken place in Atlanta since 2017.

Goode, a host of The Moth Atlanta events since 2017, has become a go-to StorySLAM host nationwide for the nonprofit organization. Since then, he has appeared on the radio and also emceed other events across the nation and internationally, including their anniversary celebration on Broadway in April.

He said he’s eager for the porch to arrive in Atlanta.

“For me, the Moth itself is like a family,” Goode said. “Some of the people who travel with the porch are not people who generally travel with the Moth. Unless you go to New York, you won’t see them. This is like family coming to visit for the first time. But instead of coming to your house, they brought their own house. So I’m going to go there and welcome them to Atlanta.”

Goode went to Tulsa to host the first StorySLAM of the tour, so he said it feels fitting that he should be the host of the tour’s last show, too.

“What I tell all the new storytellers who come on stage is that The Moth audience is one of the warmest, most loving audiences you will appear before,” he said. “They have all come here to hear you at your best and give you all the love in the world. This is not the Apollo, they have not come to boo or dance you off the stage.”

Though different cities have their own vibes, the Moth audiences are incredibly supportive, he said.

“All you have to do is walk out there, take a deep breath, be yourself and tell them your story, and they’re going to absolutely love you,” Goode said. “As the host of the Moth, as someone who’s gotten to travel with the show, I’ve gotten to feel that energy here and abroad. That love is universal. The culture is different in other areas, but the crowd is the same.”

Goode’s advice for storytellers new to The Moth is to not completely commit every word of their story to memory.

“For a lot of people, I advise them to not memorize your story,” he said. “Know it. But don’t memorize it. That way, you don’t get thrown off if you miss a line. Know it, know the beats, know how it moves, know the outline of it. It’s a story you’ve lived, so you know how to get to the end. Just tell it to the room like you’d tell it to your best friend or your family at Thanksgiving. Just relax into it.”


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

MEET OUR PARTNER

ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at nicole.williams@ajc.com.