When someone says the words, “Love Hurts,” what do you automatically think of? Is it that moment when an ex unceremoniously ghosted you, or memories of a long–lost teenage love? For people at The Moth StorySLAM on Feb. 4, these words meant many things, from hilarious young love set against a backdrop of moving immigrant experiences, to the warm love a woman felt for her late grandmother.
The Philadelphia Moth StorySLAM, an open–mic storytelling competition, is held at the World Cafe Live on 3025 Walnut Street on the first Monday of every month. At each StorySLAM, a theme is given ahead of time, and anyone who has a story to tell can put their names in a bag. Throughout the night, ten people are chosen randomly to share a five–minute story. For those five minutes, they have the enthusiastic, undivided attention of about 300 people in the audience. At the end of night, three teams of audience judges determine a winner, who goes on to compete in a Philadelphia Moth GrandSLAM, usually scheduled in the late spring.
First founded in New York City in 1997 as an intimate storytelling event, The Moth soon spread across the city, and then the world. Today, it hosts a popular podcast, as well as ongoing live programs in dozens of cities. In Philly, there is a great community surrounding The Moth. Sabrina Peltier (C ‘22), who volunteered at the StorySLAM on Feb. 4, has been to every show since last September. “Coming from Penn, where it’s a very high stress and intense environment, and a lot of people hide themselves behind a facade, I think going to an event like The Moth—and hearing people be honest and just talk—is an emotional experience,” Sabrina said. “Sometimes, depending on the story, I think it really puts things in perspective.”
The February event, which has the theme of “Love Hurts” each year, saw a packed audience and a slew of diverse stories. Paul Richards, the regional producer of The Moth—and also the Director of Communications of Penn's Division of Finance—said that, “One thing that I thought was interesting about this year’s 'Love Hurts' theme is there were more people who interpreted love beyond romantic love.”
Herein lies the draw of The Moth StorySLAM: You never know what you are going to get. Within the theme of the night, each storyteller—often regular people with little or no professional background—brings their own interpretations and uniquely personal stories. When someone walks up to the mic, the audience may see a thoughtful mediation on dealing with an ex who is addicted to porn, or a heartwarming story about a family grabbing free pieces of furniture off of the streets together.
For the performers, The Moth StorySLAM can be an exhilarating experience as well. Eric Miller—who won the StorySLAM on Feb 4 with a story about texting and dating that elicited big laughs from the audience—described a mixture of adrenaline and nerves as he walked up to the mic. “I have this crowd for the next five to six minutes,” Miller said. “They’re gonna listen to me, no matter what I say … That’s a lot of power, and that’s a lot of respect that I have for that audience, that they’re [also] giving me … I take that very seriously.”
Maida Sosa–Velazquez, who flew from Toronto to Philly just to attend the StorySLAM, spoke about dealing with her ex’s porn addiction. She said her favorite part of the experience was the women who approached her after the performance, and shared that they’ve gone through similar situations. Some thanked her for sharing her experience, and said that they were inspired to tell their own stories as well.
If you’re thinking about telling a story at The Moth StorySLAM, the website provides some helpful tips and guidelines that can help you with the preparation. The most important things include being respectful, on theme, and real, as well as making sure that it fits within a five–minute story format (no poems, rants, or stand-ups). Beyond that, there are many different approaches. Sosa–Velazquez wrote down her story first, and then memorized it. “On the plane to Philly, I actually took the paper out and was memorizing,” she said. Meanwhile, Miller did not set out to memorize, and relied more on improvisation. “[Out of everything I’ve written,] I probably only say about 60 percent,” Miller said.
You would be hard–pressed to find a more receptive audience than the one at The Moth. “They want every storyteller to succeed,” Richards said. “It’s one of the most supportive places to perform in the city of Philadelphia.” Even if you blank in the middle of a story, or get sudden stage fright, The Moth audience will be ready to cheer you on.
As Sabrina puts it, for students, The Moth StorySLAM is a great way to slow down, and take a break from Penn. The upcoming Moth show in March has the theme “Magic,” and the one in April is “Bamboozled.” These events do sell out fast—tickets go on sale online a week before the show, but you can also get them at the door if you arrive about 30 minutes before it opens. And for you storytellers, there are usually less than 20 people signed up to perform, so your chances of being picked are high. Whether you want to enjoy some good stories—or tell one of your own—take a walk down Walnut to see what The Moth is really all about.