Arts and Culture

The Moth StorySLAM Lands in Denver Tonight

The inaugural Denver Moth StorySLAM, presented by The Moth Radio Hour, will land at Swallow Hill tonight. These events, which are set up like poetry slams -- except with true stories that last no more than five minutes -- have already been hits in major cities like New York City, Chicago, LA and London. Now Colorado is getting one because this fall, the popular podcast The Moth Radio Hour got a permanent spot on KUNC out of Greeley. "We decided a while back to only start new StorySLAMs in cities where the public radio station plays The Moth Radio Hour," explains Jenifer Hixson, StorySLAM manager for the Moth. "Hearing the stories on The Moth Radio Hour gives people an idea of what we're after, the kind of storytelling we want: true and personal." See also: Denver's Minor Disturbance Youth Slam Poetry Team Takes the Nation Again at Brave New Voices

The Moth Radio Hour has gained in popularity over the past year, rapidly adding StorySLAM locations as new stations pick up the show. "Some places have a lot of Moth Radio Hour or podcast fans, but some of my favorite audience members are the people who come up to me after a show and say, 'My friend dragged me here. I had no idea! I'm hooked!'," Hixson says. "I know the feeling. I fell in love with the Moth after the first MainStage I attended in 1998. I felt like I'd stumbled into something both intimate and universal. It was a like a living documentary." The MainStage is just like a StorySLAM, but is a touring act of story-tellers, and the stories are around fifteen minutes instead of just five. The MainStage was at the Paramount last week, as a warm-up to the first Denver StorySLAM.

While the thought of telling a personal story in front of a crowd of strangers seems daunting, Hixson says that's what makes the event so special. "One of the most fun aspects of a local StorySLAM is that the 'talent' of the night is your neighbor. Your doctor, dog walker, gas-station attendant. It's so fun to discover things about people. If you are alive, you have stories," she points out. "We've seen truly shy folks get up and share stories that knock us out. Stories where everyone has to lean in to hear. It is really powerful when you get a quiet person who pulls you in."

The theme for this first Denver StorySLAM is "firsts," a very general guideline; all Moth Radio Hour episodes have themes, too. "Pick a story from your life," Hixson advises. "Maybe something painful or embarrassing. Craft a story about it; you'll have to examine everything in a new way. In developing the story, the teller develops new ways of seeing it." Stories can range from the hilarious to the heartbreaking -- the only guideline is that they need to be true and around five minutes long.

After tonight's launch, there will be other StorySLAMs on November 21 and December 19. A year from now, the Moth will return for a GrandSLAM, which will bring together the storytellers who "won" their slam, according to audience vote. "In each and every city, when we come back, there is a family of tellers," Hixson says. "We have lots of people who come back again and again to tell a few months into attending a StorySLAM, you'll know all the highs and lows and pitfalls and triumphs of a bunch of tellers. You might not know this much stuff about your own sister. But these 'strangers' have poured it all out for you, in five-minute clusters.

"Stories are what bind us as friends," she adds. "So this naturally leads to a lot of friendships."

Buy tickets to StorySLAM on the Swallow Hill website or at the door for $10. Anyone who wants to throw their name in the hat to be a potential storyteller should arrive early, when doors open at 7 p.m.; the slam starts at 7:30. You can listen to an archive of Moth stories on the podcast site.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mary Willson started contributing to Westword as an intern in the summer of 2014, focusing on the electronic music scene in Colorado.
Contact: Mary Willson